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“That right there is death… a death-dealer. There’s no way I would put this boat right in front of this croc in a month’s time when the water warms up.”

     – Our Daintree River cruise guide, as our boat sat less than 10 metres in front of a 13 foot-long alpha male crocodile named Fat Albert last Tuesday morning… very reassuring words, no?

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The opera house, the harbor bridge, the Olympic stadium… you always hear about these places in books or on TV, but the reality of their existance doesn’t really hit until you’re standing outside of them. Two weeks ago, I did my first major trip outside of Brisbane and visited the capital city of Sydney, which is about a 2-hour flight into New South Wales. 

 

I went with a couple of other Americans and stayed with friends from Duke. The trip was incredibly exhausting with all of the sight-seeing and our determination to save money by walking everywhere! What most amazed me about Sydney was its metropolitan feel. Brisbane, with about 2 million residents, is certainly by definition a city, but compared to Sydney’s international flair and neon spectacles, Brisbane looks small and quaint. Dare I compare their differences to New York City versus Durham? This might be a slight exaggeration, but there was an unexpected marked difference between the two cities.

 

As soon as I arrived in Sydney, I felt a hustle and bustle absent in Brisbane. People rushed past you unaffectedly. Everywhere you turned, there were more bright signs, shopping, food, historical spots and tourist traps. I could constantly hear different accents from across the globe, but ironically enough, rarely (never?) heard the laid-back Queenslander accent I’ve come to be so familiar with and associate with Australians. To be sure, the sights in Sydney are amazing. The Royal Botanical Gardens overlooking city central and the harbor were beautiful, the Opera House was even more amazing up close than from TV and the Blue mountains we visited about an hour outside of the city could give Yosemite or Yellowstone a run for their money. Darling Harbor was a lot of fun: right next to the heart of downtown, complete with delicious restaurants, gelato, an aquarium, the largest IMAX in Australia and Saturday night fireworks. The atmosphere was electric and intriguing. On the flip side, the small town of Leura in the Blue mountains was merely a two-block downtown spread of small shops, cafes and a specialty candy store. For the Durhamites and Dukies reading, think Brightleaf Square or Ninth Street in the middle of the mountains and minus ‘gourmet’ places such as Mt. Fuji’s or Piazza Italia.

 

 

I think the reality that I’ve been to Sydney – you know, the famous Australian city that hosted the 2000 summer Olympics – only really hit me once I got back home to Brisbane. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, and I can safely say it’s impossible to do Sydney justice in only four days. But isn’t that the case with any city really? Most visitors to Australia completely overlook Brisbane, but it’s a wonderful city and I am so glad it’s my home these four months.

 

Favorite Sydney memories? I can narrow it down to three:

  1. Playing in the circular spiral fountain at Darling Harbor
  2. Riding a jet boat around Sydney Harbor, seeing the sites, and making sudden stops and spin outs at random moments
  3. Taking a tour of the Opera House… it was amazing inside, but nothing like I expected. Most great theaters I’ve been in are ornate and classic looking, but this was simplistic and modern (it was only completed in 1973)

 

Next stop: tropical Cairns!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is an advertisement that I have seen all over the Paris Métro. It shows a typical British Bobby who is badly beat up. He’s holding up his hand as if to say, “STOP! I’ve had quite enough!”
Iarretez de massacrer l'anglais

Stop massacring English!

The ad reads: “Stop massacring English!” The idea is, of course, that if you buy this company’s English courses, you will ostensibly stop “massacring” the English language.

I’ve been in Paris for a week now, and this ad got me to thinking, if there was some French guy (complete with beret, cigarette, and baguette in hand, naturally) who got a smack every time I made an error in speaking, what would he look like?

Well, he would probably be in pretty bad shape. In fact, he’d probably still be lying on the floor, quivering from the time I said I thought “the window was delicious.”

The language barrier was not something to which I gave a lot of thought before coming to France. I have been studying French since kindergarten (I have the Atlanta public school system to thank for that one), and I have been to France twice before and got along just fine.

But I haven’t taken a French class since my first semester freshman year at Duke, and it turns out that that is plenty of time for your brain to start to rot.

Yes, I remember the basics. I can order in a restaurant and talk to shop owners just fine. But it turns out that there is a big difference in being able to buy a stamp and being able to show your personality and wit in conversation.

My Monday morning: watching American Sunday night football from 10am-1pm with a couple of friends and a few random Australians in an engineering lounge. Luckily for me, ESPN’s coverage of the Colts and Bears was broadcast here on our humble channel 10. And even more luckily for me, being the Chicago native I am, the Bears pulled off the upset and won.

Don’t worry, I’m not posting merely to brag – it has cultural significance as well, I swear. A couple of firsts occurred for me Monday morning and a couple of things stood out:

1. I’ve never watched football with people from a foreign country. Some liked it, some didn’t. A couple of the guys knew as much as the Americans present and even belonged to their own fantasy leagues. A couple of the guys could have cared less.

2. I’ve actually never watched football from a foreign country… at 10am on Monday. Just wait til next week… my Bears play the early Sunday game, so at 3am Brisbane time on Monday, I will be watching…somehow, though I haven’t quite figured out how.

3. I’ve never watched football with someone who truly hated it. I quote (in response to a great tackle), “Five against one?? That’s so ridiculous. This game is ridiculous.”  and (sarcastically in response to a head-butt-nearly-turned-into-a-fight after a play) “Ooo, I hit him with my helmet on… I’m tough.”  It was really funny, especially since he had just sat down and didn’t know there were Americans there.

But seriously, it was a lot of fun and it felt so good to see some football again. And I won my fantasy game by nearly 25 points… and it’s my first time ever in a fantasy league… and I had the second highest score overall in the league. Ok, that was bragging.

I come from a world of Duke blue and Blue Devils, and here I have found myself embraced in Australia by blue skies and… Blue Dogs. 

Since I arrived, Emmanuel College has been my home away from home. Oddly enough, our colors are “Duke” blue and white. I walk around, seeing everyone wearing their sweet blue and white-striped rugby jerseys and I can’t help but smile about how good it feels to see the familar but also how much fun the experience of a residential college has been. 

Amazingly (and frighteningly!) enough, I have nearly reached the half-way point of my time in Australia. For the past two months, I have been living in St. Lucia, a suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, the Sunshine State. My residential college houses about 300 Australians and 50 international students, mostly under-grad, but some grad and post-doc as well.

We live in a variety of two-story brick wings situated around a grassy courtyard and alongside the dining hall and gym. My wing, affectionately known as Micky, is named Meiklejohn after the Dr. Reverend John Meiklejohn, (could his parents not have come up with a more original first name?!?) first president of Emmanuel when the college was founded in 1911.

I have found the residential college system amazing, and am thrilled that I was placed here instead of an off-campus apartment. I have the rest of my life to live in an apartment or private home, not the case for living with 40 other peers. Most of the kids are two years younger. Funny story: typically, American study-abroad students are in their junior year, so most of us are 20 and 21 years of age. Oddly enough, most of the kids in my wing are first-years (except my fellow Americans), so therefore only about 18. At first, it made me feel old to constantly meet people two years younger, I must admit, but now, it just seems normal.

So what is college life like, one might ask? All meals are provided for us. Food is pretty simple, sometimes of a very typically dining hall variety (dried meat, lots of rice) but for the most part, it’s really good. I’m happy about the constant selections of veggies and salad (and dessert!) at dinner and fruit in the mornings. As long as I have fresh food, I’m always happy. Sidenote: I’ve eaten more carrots and PB-and-J toast here than ever before in my lifetime. No complaints though… they are delicious.

In addition to the constant supply of food I do not have to buy or cook, college has many other perks, including one free load of laundry a week. Being the girl I am, I still do a load myself because heaven forbid I would ever mix darks and whites. People also clean our bathrooms, vacuum our floors and empty our trashbins from our rooms. Sounds good hey? As my mom said before I left, why would I ever want to leave here? Answer: I’m still searching for that answer. (haha, just kidding mom… I’ll come home, I promise!)

One of my favorite things about college has been the social perks. You can always find someone to go out with or stay in and watch a movie. Meals are often hour-long affairs as you chat up you tablemates and get all the latest gos (This seems obvious, but gos = Australian slang for gossip). Being part of a residential college is the best way to hear about any party on or around campus and often scores you free bus rides to such events. Living with Australians also gets you the inside scoop on places to travel, how to get there, and who might give you a free ride to the beach next weekend.

Lastly, and one of my favorite parts, Emmanuel has many sports teams that compete in the Intercollegiate league against the other, and obviously inferior (!) colleges. So far, I’ve seen a fair share of soccer, rugby and basketball. It’s a great chance to meet everyone and I think we often have way more fun on the sidelines than they do in the game.

Given that Emmanuel’s colors are royal blue and white, looks like I should have brought more Duke shirts with me after all 🙂 Eh, no worries, I’ll just have to wait until my super-sweet rugby jersey comes in. As our college song goes… we’re blue because we’re blue, because we’re blue… Go Blue dogs!!

I have nothing to say, nothing to think. I don’t understand what I am reading; there are strange symbols. People come up to me in the street and I nod and mumble. Vodka–I understand you. I have been reduced to infancy, savagery; life is palpable.

I arrived in Madrid about a week and a half ago, and after exploring a bit of the city, soaking up the feeling, and letting all that white linen wash over me, I can say one thing for certain. Undoubtedly much has changed about Madrid over the past decades, but in so many ways it is still the city of Hemingway’s dreams. Dignified and proud, the light breeze is a real catharsis. As September begins, the city starts to fill back up as the regulars return from vacation. School begins soon – I’m studying at Universidad San Pablo – and I’ll be in and around Spain for the next 4 months. More to follow.

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