So, given that the end of my second month in the Southern Hemisphere is fast approaching and that this is my first post, I think that it is fair to say that I am failing in my capacity as a blogger. In my defence it has been a busy couple of months, what with moving to the other side of the world and all, but it’s high time that I filled you all in with what I’ve been up to. ‘Why now?’ you might ask, ‘Whence the time you previously lacked?’ To be perfectly honest, it has only just occurred to me that this is the ultimate form of procrastination. It is the middle of my first semester at Sydney (already!) and that means one thing: mid-term assessments. My first take-home exam was handed in on Wednesday (don’t ask), and I am now awaiting the release of a problem-sheet for another course whilst avoiding starting an essay for yet another one. The next few weeks are going to be pretty busy school-wise, which is another reason why I’ve decided to do this now before yet another month passes!
This post is going to be longer than usual (there’s a lot to tell you) and a bit hectic in structure. I’m going to divide it into little sections, key aspects of my time in Oz thus far, and hopefully can thereby give a general overview of what’s been happening. It also means that you don’t have to read all of it (you’re welcome). Scroll down, find whatever you’re interested in and I hope you enjoy!
1) Leaving home and packing:
– I hate packing. I’m not very good at it. I knew I was going to Australia’s winter, but what does that even mean? Hats and scarves? Just a jumper? How many jumpers? What about dresses? And so on and so forth. In the end I needn’t have bothered actually thinking about it anyway. Because I loathe it so, all packing was left to the very last minute which meant that my suitcase ended up being too heavy, which meant that the top layer was removed at the airport which meant that I arrived in Australia with only one t-shirt, no socks and only half a pair of pyjamas. Fantastic.
– Saying goodbye was one of the worst things I have ever had to do. I became a human water fountain! I cried when I said goodbye to my brother, when I said goodbye to my sister, when I said goodbye to my mum and when I said goodbye to my dad. I cried all the way through airport security – the poor security guards didn’t quite know how to handle such a soggy individual and I was given a wide berth. It was a little pathetic to be honest. Well … a lot pathetic, but there we are.
2) The flights
– The flight to Australia is long. There’s no other way to describe it. It just takes forever. I left London at 9:15pm on Thursday 11th July 2013. Three flights, two stopovers and 30 hours later I landed down in Melbourne, ready to start my Aussie adventure in earnest.
– To be honest, the flights weren’t that bad. I whiled away the many hours by watching Django Unchained (not a wise choice for someone so squeamish, though I believe my constant flinching and squirming were a source of amusement to the guy next to me) and four and a half Disney films (chosen to a) cheer me up and b) repair the psychological damage done by Tarantino).
– Dubai airport is very shiny and much too expensive; Perth airport has little in the way of sleeping facilities
– Australia’s customs process is the most terrifying I have ever experienced. ‘IF YOU ARE CARRYING A SINGLE ITEM OF WOOD/SEED/SHELL WE SHALL KNOW AND YOU WILL BE FINED $60,000’. To someone suffering from severe sleep deprivation and who cannot remember for the life of her what she packed (or what was removed from that packing) this is very scary. Did I bring those shell earrings or that wooden ring? Does beeswax lip balm count? Are these things that I should declare? I don’t want to lose them … maybe I can get them through. But then I don’t have $60,000! In the end I declared nothing and made it through customs without a single bag or cavity search. Win!
3) Arriving in Australia
– I am very lucky to have a good friend living in Melbourne; an Australian by the name of Sarah who I met when she was on exchange in Edinburgh. Sarah, being the genius she is, suggested that I fly to Melbourne and stay with her and her family whilst I get over jetlag, before flying on to Sydney and dealing with the whole finding a place to live thing. Not only was this very kind, but it made for a fantastic first week in Oz.
– My first shower after that flight was one of the most delicious feelings I’ve had in a while. Also, I slept for the best part of 17 hours!
– Staying with Sarah was great. Her family were lovely and it was really nice to go into a homey environment when I was feeling particularly vulnerable at having left mine so far behind. Things that I was worried I wouldn’t experience for ages were suddenly still available, like log fires and roast lamb and autumnal dog-walks.
– I experienced some quintessential Australian food, including Vegemite (not bad but not Marmite), TimTams (chocolate biscuits, a bit like Penguins, that are absolutely delicious) and Milo (a chocolaty powder that you mix with milk). I also tried a Chicken Parma, which I am assured is a key Australian dish. It was very good. It’s a butterflied chicken fillet, breaded and covered in tomato sauce and cheese – almost like a pizza with chicken instead of dough. I must remember to bring it over to the UK and thereby make my fortune!
– We also tried our hand at baking. Well … Sarah and her sister Izzy did and I helped peripherally. We made these delicious little biscuits called ‘Yo-Yos’ and an epic, eight-texture chocolate cake à la Peter Gilmore: http://www.masterchef.com.au/recipes/eighttexture-chocolate-cake.htm. Note to self, if you want to properly enjoy an exceedingly rich and complex chocolate desert it helps if you don’t come at it from a day of picking at all of its components; the law of diminishing returns truly applies to chocolate consumption.
– I got to see quite a lot of Australian wildlife this week. In the wild, I saw giant fruit bats called Flying foxes, who look like buboes hanging from the gum trees but who have a huge wingspan when in flight. They also have purple poo (the more you know). Sarah, Izzy, their brother Pete and I also paid a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary where I saw ALL the wildlife. I saw kangaroos and wallabies, wombats and koalas, dingoes, duck-billed platypuses, bilbies, Tasmanian devils, emus … the list goes on. There were loads of exotically coloured birds as well, which were stunning to look at but too numerous to remember the names of. I still can’t decide if my favourite animals were the koalas or the wombats. Both are contestants for the cuddliest creatures on the planet! The dingoes were great too – they’re quite stunningly beautiful.
– Sarah flew with me up to Sydney where we spent the day being tourists and the night staying with another friend of mine from home called Nick. It was great. We arrived in Sydney, dumped my bags somewhere uptown and went exploring. Highlights of the day include:
- Eating lamb sandwiches in Hyde Park whilst watching an insane amount of joggers and listening to the worst busker I have ever had the misfortune to hear.
- Walking through the Botanic Gardens
- Getting my first ever view of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. My mouth literally fell open when I saw them. They’re so familiar and yet extraordinarily novel. It didn’t feel like I could actually be seeing these monuments that I’d seen in computer games, on TV shows, in films, in photos etc. To see something so often and yet to see it for the first time is a very strange feeling – amazing!
- Buying little truffles from a Guylian shop – an entire shop dedicated to Guylian chocolates!
- Checking out the Museum of Contemporary Art where I saw my first pieces of Aboriginal Art and an incredible exhibit by an artist called Wangechi Mutu. She was displaying a couple of multi-media installations and sculptures, and some multi-media collages. I think I enjoyed it because it was quite accessible (something that don’t I find a lot of contemporary art to be) and, also because it reminded me a little of my sister’s artwork.
- Seeing Nick for the first time in a couple of years and eating out at a very nice Thai restaurant before spending the night at his in a very comfortable bed.
4) Surf Camp
– About a month before I was due to come out to Sydney, I received an email from the University informing us about events that they were organising to help exchange students meet people and settle in. There was a day trip to the Blue Mountains, a walking tour of the city or a weekend surf camp (guess which one I picked!) I am so glad that I went on the Surf Camp because it was how I met most of the people that I’m friends with now. Given that I had to spend the best part of Fresher’s Week desperately seeking accommodation I missed out on other opportunities to meet people, so to me this was a real lifesaver!
– They picked us up 6pm Friday and drove us for a couple of hours down to Seven Mile Beach (via a very good burger joint for supper). When we arrived we were randomly divvied up into wooden cabins (there were seven in mine – me, the very nice Norwegian girl called Vanessa that I had sat next to on the way up and five boys from the US (2), Austria, Denmark and Holland). It was a good mix.
– We got three surfing sessions/lessons. One Saturday morning, one Saturday afternoon and one Sunday morning. Each session lasted for 2 hours, which was perfect because, despite our wetsuits, the water was quite cold (it was winter after all!). It’s also very tiring! I knew that I was going to struggle with balancing (I regularly fall over on still land let alone a surf board) but I hadn’t anticipated the amount of upper-body strength that it would require. Not only do you have to paddle very quickly to catch a wave, but then you have to push yourself up into an upwards-facing dog position (Google it) and then push yourself into a standing position. It was like doing 2 hours of push-ups. By the end of each session, my arms couldn’t take it anymore and kept collapsing beneath me resulting in quite a few surfboard face-plants. Not quite the surfer look I was going for.
– I did manage to stand up a couple of times (with help from the instructor pushing my board to make me go slightly faster and hence steadying it). I was never upright for very long but it was a great feeling when I was! When it gets warmer I intend to hire a surfboard and practice – at the very least it would be nice to be able to stand up without assistance!
– Saturday night was spent in a nautical club with a two-man live band (they weren’t bad), a bar and many middle-aged folk who looked somewhat put out by the influx of youth into their domain. There was a television silently mounted on the wall behind the dance floor and at the oddest part of the evening I found myself watching horrific war scenes from Saving Private Ryan whilst listening to two aging Aussie singers play a rendition of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ whilst a group of international exchange students attempted to have a dance off. It was a peculiar night but a great trip!
5) Finding somewhere to live:
– Finding somewhere to live was horrible though it was made so much better by staying with my friend Lisa, who I met whilst travelling around South America. She has a very nice flat in which I had my own room (complete with ensuite) – the lap of luxury. The only downside was that it was quite far from the university which meant getting up early and not being able to stay very late. However, it did mean that I got to get the ferry to and from the city-centre every day. It was very strange to be sitting amongst businessmen and general commuters, all immersed in their papers or books and in varying states of consciousness, none of whom were aware or interested in the fact that we had just sailed under Sydney Harbour Bridge or that that was the world famous Sydney Opera House glinting in the morning sun.
– My method of finding a room mostly entailed hours upon hours of trawling through websites like Gumtree and Flatmates.com and emailing everyone and anyone whose room was appropriately priced (rents here are exorbitant) and looked habitable.
– The first place I saw was grey. I would be sharing the room with another girl (who wasn’t there) and the landlady, whilst friendly, seemed to be the type that would be CONSTANTLY checking up on you and interfering. Needless to say, I wasn’t sold (though it really wasn’t that bad; I just didn’t have anything to compare it to).
– Place number 2 was heart-breaking. It was ideally located and had been advertised as being “perfect” for dog-lovers. This got me very excited, because I do miss having a dog around when I am away at university. However, not only did the room turn out to be completely unfurnished (no bed, no wardrobe, no nothing) but the dogs turned out to be Chihuahuas. I do not like Chihuahuas. Chihuahuas are not dogs … they are glorified, yappy rats. I had made the mistake of placing this room on a mental pedestal – it was going to be perfection itself – and it was quite upsetting that it didn’t remotely live up to this. With term starting the next week, time was of the essence and I was starting to feel a little panicked.
– I didn’t actually get round to seeing the third place. My phone battery died when I was on my way, and with it went the address and my map. I decided that this was fate and called it a day
– Place number 4 I found advertised on the University Accommodation website. It sounded lovely. The room was fully furnished and in somebody’s home, so full kitchen amenities and the like. It also had a piano. However, it was $100 dollars a week more than advertised (typo apparently) and so was not to be. Yet more heartache.
– At last I found a room. I was once again to be found desperately searching Gumtree when I spotted a new post for a room that was ideally located and perfectly priced. It didn’t have a bed but by this time I was desperate and so I hurriedly sent an email and arranged a viewing for the next day. When I got there, they were showing another student around and I panicked. I couldn’t stand the idea of them getting there first. I had decided that this was the room for me (not least because it didn’t involve sharing with anybody) and so after the briefest of looks round I declared that I wanted the room. They told me that they weren’t going to make a decision until everyone had seen it, but I think my desperation showed and they got back to me later that day to tell me that I could have it if I wanted it. Relief, glorious relief! I finally had a place to call home in Sydney.
– The room is alright. I managed to find a bed on Gumtree for $50 (complete with mattress, delivery and even help to assemble it). The walls are the colour of burned salmon but with a mattness that reminds me almost of terracotta which, given that it’s cracked and chipped in places, gives it an almost rustic feel. Lisa helped me to get some bedding and lent me some pillows and a blanket, and there was a little filing cabinet (now my chest of drawers) and iron clothes rack (my wardrobe) in there already. Once I got my photos up on the wall it ceased to be too bad.
– It’s in a single-storey house located in a suburb of Sydney called Newtown, which is supposed to be very hip and happening but which I still haven’t found time to explore properly. There is very good street art and lots and lots of cheap Thai restaurants and coffee shops and bookshops though so I’m happy. The house itself is a little grotty – there’s peeling wallpaper here and there and the furniture is generally comprised of what has been found on the street on skip day – but it’s a perfect student pad and it’s only until November. I’m sure that I’ll survive!
– I’m sharing with a Dutch-Vietnamese Masters student called Huang and an Irish chef called Cornelius. I’ve never lived with boys before – it’s less clean I’ve noticed. But they’re both nice so I don’t have much to complain about.
– I’m taking four courses this semester:
1) Contemporary Political Philosophy
2) Critical Theory: From Marx to Foucault
3) Philosophy of Modern Physics
4) Topics in Environmental Politics
– They weren’t my initial choices, but the timetabling system in Sydney is very weird and they were the best combination that I could find. Each course has one 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour tutorial (in which there are 20 odd people) each week. The rest of my time is spent doing readings for these courses and tutorials and doing the occasional assessment.
– The assessment structure is very similar to Edinburgh’s, with most courses having a mid-term essay and a final exam. One difference I am greatly appreciating though is that my exams this semester are either final essays or take-home exams, which means that at no point do I have to partake in the ridiculously inaccurate form of evaluation which requires me to hurriedly regurgitate information in a roughly structured fashion without time for proper thought and analysis. It also means that I’m done by the 10th November, which gives me a month to do some travelling before coming home for Christmas.
– I am enjoying my courses this semester, though they are all quite challenging (I’m still not quite sure what Critical Theory is exactly!). I made the decision that, despite my marks not counting, I still wanted to study courses that were relevant to my degree and which would help me to grow academically. Whilst I’m not regretting this decision, it does mean that I get to spend less time out and about exploring Sydney than I might wish. Perhaps I’ll choose easier options next semester. That being said, Philosophy of Modern Physics is fascinating (and I get to do some maths which I enjoy) and the Environmental Politics course is really interesting too. Contemporary Political Philosophy I feel is suffering for being taught on a Monday, which means that I am definitely struggling to engage in it, and, like I said, Critical Theory thus far eludes me. I’m hoping that it shall become clearer as time passes. Just as long as I pass …
7) Looking for work:
– So far I am not having much luck on the finding a job front
– I have had quite a few babysitting gigs with friends of friends from home. The children are 5, 3 and 2 and they’re all really nice and well-behaved. It also pays much better over here than back home ($20 an hour is the normal rate!).
– I have had one job interview that is worthy of telling, not least because it contains important life lessons. Lesson number 1: if a low-end job is paying $20 above minimum wage then it is not a normal low-end job. I applied to a very well-paid waitress position on Gumtree and got invited to interview. Fantastic thinks I. That’ll be a load off, and I can afford to work fewer hours because it is so very well paid. Brilliant! I get dressed up in my most formal attire and make my way to the establishment, which turns out to be a very dingy bar in quite a dodgy looking neighbourhood. I went in, squelched my way across the sticky floor, shook hands with the manager and we sat down to have the interview. It was all going very well until he said “And you’re ok with the topless thing?” I gawped at him. “T…topless thing?!” I eventually splutter. “Yes – this opening is for a topless waitress”. I would like to say that I handled the whole situation with the calm and grace that becomes a young lady. Instead, I can tell you that I went BRIGHT red, mumbled that I hadn’t realised and that this wasn’t what I was looking for and left very quickly. And that, boys and girls, is why you should always read the fine-print!
8) Things I have done in Sydney so far:
– Harbour Cruise
This was one of the activities arranged in the first week of term for students to get to know each other a bit better. Of course the night that we were all meant to spend on the deck of a ship was the first night it had rained since we’d arrived in Oz, and of course the promised food turned out to be tiny appetisers that were very difficult to locate (the waiters became exceedingly popular) and of course the drinks on board were exorbitantly expensive, but it was still a good night. We got to see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (we went under it!) and the glittering skyscrapers of Sydney’s CBD from the water – by far the best way to see them as they’re illuminated against the night sky. And at the same time we got to chat to new people and hang out with new friends and get dressed up into pretty outfits, so it was definitely a fun night.
– Museum of Contemporary Art
– The walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach
This walk is beautiful. It’s about 5km long and takes you along a stunning bit of coastline, with huge red sandstone rocks stripy with various strata and with tropical plants hanging from them and turquoise blue rock pools next to a deep blue sea. At Bondi there was an excellent fish and chip shop too – Sydney has truly excellent seafood.
– Taronga Zoo
The zoo was amazing! It had all of the usual animals that might be found in a zoo: elephants, giraffes, zebras, chimpanzees, lions, spiders, snakes etc. as well as the usual Australian subjects. I particularly liked seeing the giraffes here – I’d forgotten just how majestic and beautiful yet bizarrely shaped they are. We also got to see the most incredible bird show. The zoo is on a hill on the other side of Sydney Harbour (you get there by ferry and then a cable car over the zoo!) and so the show had a stunning backdrop of the harbour. The birds performed perfectly, with each arriving on cue and performing their role in the narrative. It was like watching synchronised swimming with birds! It was so spectacular that quite a few members of the audience started to cry – it was just that moving.
– The Rocks
This is one of my favourite parts of Sydney. It’s near Circular Quay (where the Opera House is) and is comprised of nice old brick buildings and little winding lanes. There’s a great market here at weekends selling beautiful clothes and jewellery and trinkets – it required every ounce of self-control not to bankrupt myself. There’s also a pancake restaurant that sells American styled pancakes. I enjoyed it, but my new American friends informed me that the quality was subpar to say the least. I guess I’ll just have to go to America and sample the real deal!
– The Ivy
This is a nightclub that has a swimming pool in the middle of it and the fattest DJ that I have ever seen. He looks like he’s taking part in a ‘Who can wear the most t-shirts?’ competition but he’s only wearing one t-shirt. That being said, he’s a very good DJ.
– Oxford Street and Soda Factory
Oxford Street is the gay district in Sydney and has a thriving night scene. Soda Factory is a basement club nearby, with the same DJ as the Ivy. Both are worthy of a good night out
– Dr. Sketchys
To celebrate my friend Tessa’s birthday we went to an event called Dr. Sketchys at the Arthouse Hotel. It takes place in a bar, so you can have drinks and food and chat with friends, but it also has two burlesque models that pose for you to sketch them. They did a variety of 2, 5, 10 and 20 minute poses and you could sketch as and when you pleased, with whatever materials you bought with you. One woman was paining in a corner; others were sketching with charcoal, others with pencils and others were just using napkins and biros. It was amazing some of the stuff that was produced in so little time. I never got more than a bare outline, but I had great fun. I enjoy drawing but I never do it.
– Glebe Market
This little artisan market happens every Saturday in a suburb near mine and sells all sorts from new clothes to vintage clothing to handmade candles and leather goods and bath products and artwork and posters and jewellery and scarves and many other goods that tempt money from your wallet. It’s nice to walk around though and play the ‘When I am rich I will buy…’ game. I find myself playing that game A LOT in Sydney
– Blue Mountains
Last weekend I went on a day trip into the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours drive from Sydney. They’re called the Blue Mountains because the evaporating oil from the eucalyptus trees that causes a bluish haze. The mountains are really beautiful. We went on a bush walk through the trees to see the Wentworth Falls, a crystal clear waterfall off a sandstone cliff into the abyss below. We also got to see the Three Sisters rock formation, so named because of a legend that said that three aboriginal sisters were playing one day when they were turned to stone to protect them from some threat that I can’t remember. They’re basically three very impressive stacks. The panoramic view from Echo Point allowed us to take in the Three Sisters and also Mount Solitary, a huge outcrop rising out of the forest that is bigger than Uluru. It really is a beautiful part of the world.
And so ends this my first blog post. I apologise for its length and sincerely applaud you if you have made it this far. Henceforth, I shall strive to post regularly … well, that’s the plan anyway!