Sunday, September 28, 2008

Race Day

Going to the races was fun. We got dressed up, drank a bit too much champagne, and generally enjoyed the spectacle. The ladies in particular got very dressed up, and I saw lots of fancy frocks. Women also wear little frothy, feathery things in their hair, called fascinators. These are carefully selected to match the dress, but the most frightening part is that there were women who were wearing more on their heads than they were on their bodies! (Ok, slight exaggeration, but only slight - ladies here like very short dresses.) I was hoping to find a bit of the history behind the fashion, but all I got from Wikipedia was this.

The interesting thing to me was the number of bachelorette (hen) and bachelor parties there were at the races yesterday. Perhaps the brides and grooms to be are considered particularly lucky? Regardless, the crazy tiaras and veils that the brides-to-be often are made to wear didn't stand out nearly as much as they normally do.

Probably the funniest thing was stopping by the Royal (my local pub in Randwick) later that evening, and seeing the groups that had migrated there to continue drinking after the races. By nine pm, most of the fascinators had been transfered to the guys' heads, who were drunk enough not to mind.

Anyway, the focus of the day was clearly on the human spectacle, and not so much on the horses. This disappointed several of the women I was with, who have had good success in the past betting on the prettiest horses. Instead, most of us went with the horse's name for our picks, regardless of the odds. Which is why you see such a stash of unsuccessful bid slips in that cup. Anyway, hats (or rather fascinators) off to Casey, who tackeld the challenge of trying to teach us all how to bet. He's a very brave man.

After the races, we all walked back to Randwick Junction and devoured some Thai food. Overall, a very good Saturday. It's now Sunday, as I post this, and I'm going to get my butt out of school, where I came to use the internet, and off to the beach. Hugs to you all!

Friday, September 26, 2008


Inverting the day and month when writing dates continues to require effort. I'm just too damn American.

I've been settling into my new apartment for the last couple days. The Italians haven't moved in yet, so I'm currently sharing with an Irish couple who are moving out tomorrow. The churn of the foreigners coming through Sydney is pretty impressive. Must get exhausting for the locals.

Last night, Casey, Liam (an exchange student from SoCal, who did his MBA at HEC in France), and I met Kacy in Bondi, at the Flying Squirrel Tapas Parlour. The atmosphere was cool, but it was actually pretty tiny, and I was disappointed by the lack of flying squirrels! After one round of tapas though, we all decided there was no way we could get full at that place, so we all headed down to Bondi Beach to find something that could satisfy our overgrown American apetites. Unfortunately for our purposes, it's still sort of low season here, so everything had closed. But we finally found a place, and I had (you guessed it) some potato wedges!

I thought I'd also include a photo of the sign near my house. It turns out I live near an alien baby crossing. Good to know. I don't really have a whole lot else to report. Tomorrow a bunch of us are going to the opening day of the season at the Randwick Racecourse. Apparently they get pretty dressed up, and the women wear funny hats. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blue lights, cold wind

I tried going shopping after class yesterday. Kacy Qua (from Anderson), Anne Visholm (here at AGSM from Copenhagen) and I went to Paddington. This is the neighborhood that all the guidebooks recommend for shopping, but none of us found anything to buy. This is probably a good thing, given my financial situation, but still disappointing. After which Kacy and I found a nice loungey bar and drank far too much red wine. I highly recommend the Lillydale Estate Yarra Valley Pinot Noir from 2006, if you can get your hands on a bottle.

I've been struggling with a strange sense of, well, normalcy. I've come so far from home. And part of the reason for doing so was to shake things up. See new sights, meet new people, eat new food... So here I am and the craziest thing I've eaten is the potato wedges.
Which are exactly what they sound like, only they're battered with what we think of as curly fries seasoning, and served with cream cheese and sweet chili sauce. Which may be odd, but when you come down to it, any format of fried potato is pretty much awesome, and these are no exception. Anyway, I was walking home from the bus yesterday struggling with a very odd sort of displacement. Life here is at once far too familiar and yet foreign, sort of like wearing someone else's glasses that only partly match your prescription.

The walk down the hill from the bus stop last night was quite chilly, and the air was really clear. As I approached the beach at the bottom, I noticed someone had laid out a patch of twinkly blue lights in the sand. When I got really close I realized it said "marry me" in large letters - a message aimed at someone on one of the planes passing overhead on final approach into Sydney International. So I stood there in the cold, listening to Stevie Nicks tell me "thunder only happens when it's raining", watching the twinkly blue and the waves catching the orange of the sodium street lamps, and realized...

Nothing much actually. But just for a moment, my brain shut the hell up. I love it when that happens. So I guess the trip here was worth it afterall. Now, I'm off to pick up my things and FINALLY move into my apartment!

Gros bisous to you all.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Important questions

The one question I was consistently asked, prior to my departure, was whether water really swirls down the drain in the opposite direction in Australia. Imagine my frustration at still not being able to answer that question. It turns out that the toilets flush differently here. It's more of a massive water flow, with no circular rotation whatsoever. And then there's the fact that you can either have a half flush or a whole flush. I can't figure it out...

And I have yet to have access to a tub that I can fill deep enough to get an accurate water tornado going (or whatever the technical term for that is). I did manage to get the stopper stuck in the sink for a good half hour as I was trying to investigate. I wound up having to pry it open with a knife. Can you believe what I do for science? Now, can someone tell me what direction we would consider normal? It turns out that's not something I know off the top of my head.

Life is Good

I finally made it to the parts of the city for which Sydney is famous. Thursday after class, Casey Winn (fellow Anderson student), Antonio Ortega (on exchange from IE in Madrid) and I went to Circular Quay in the afternoon. After an overpriced lunch at the Opera Bar, which does boast stellar cocktails and an unbelievable view of the bridge and the opera house, we wandered around one of the oldest areas of Sydney, called The Rocks.

We met up with Rick Jashnani and Joyce Thomas, two Anderson students who were visiting from Melbourne. We sat and had a beer, and I dug into the red velvet cupcake that Joyce impressively managed to find in this city that loves desserts, but has yet to embrace the cupcake. Admittedly, few cities have quite as much as LA. Then we wandered back to Opera Bar to meet students from AGSM for some socializing, followed by dinner and more drinks at Lowenbrau, which is one of the 3 or 4 pubs claiming to be the oldest pub in Sydney. In an effort to save money, we were buying bottles of wine instead of glasses, but I think I took that idea a little too literally.

I woke up Friday with feeling the effects of a bit too much red wine, but Sydney took pity on me and sent me a gorgeous day. Rick and Joyce took the bus into Coogee, and after a very yummy breakfast,

we started the walk from Coogee to Bondi. It’s about 3 miles, and winds along the coast past gorgeous houses, and smaller bays and beaches. It was a great way to spend my birthday – wandering along, shooting photos and watching the surfers and boogie boarders. Turns out the latter are a lot less choosy about their waves, and therefore a lot more interesting to watch.

Bondi beach itself is gorgeous. I can understand why it’s so famous. The break happens really far out, so if you catch the right wave you get a nice long ride are reward for your efforts. Probably a hundred yards or a bit more? I’m trying to sound like a know what I’m talking about. Mostly it’s just fun to watch the surfers wipe out.

Because we had a lazy day, we were on track for a late dinner, so I decided to take a chance and try eating at Longrain. The restaurant came highly recommended in a couple of my guidebooks, and had been on my list from before I arrived. However, they don’t take reservations to sit at their big communal table, so I was worried about bringing a big group. But by the time we arrived and had a few very yummy cocktails, it was so late that we were seated pretty quickly. And damn was it worth it! If you ever get a chance to go, be sure to order the green papaya salad, the silken tofu, and the caramelized ham hock. Food here is pretty ridiculously expensive, so I’ve been frustrated by having to spend more than I wanted on something I thought wasn’t very good. It was nice have the restaurant live up to (and surpass) expectations.

And the group who went was a lot of fun. To introduce the cast of characters: Casey Wyin is from Anderson, as is Matt Craig, who is here with his wife Courtney. Antonio is from Madrid, Jose from Chile, and Anne from Copenhagen, all on exchange here at AGSM. Rick and Joyce are Anderson students who are studying in Melbourne the quarter. And Kacy Qua is on the last leg of her epic Australian journey, and made it here in time to make sure none of us took ourselves too seriously. I believe a significant portion of the dinner conversation centered around an explanation of the term ‘tool’. As it, “he’s such a tool”, or “don’t be a tool”. Watching the faces of the non-Americans during the conversation gave me a little insight into just how ridiculous we appear to the rest of the world.

So that’s been the focus of the last couple days. It’s gorgeous here again today, so I think I’ll head to meet Kacy at Bondi beach soon, and take advantage of this window of time when the beach is nice but the weather isn’t brutally hot. Although I had a wonderful phone call from the States this morning, I’m feeling homesick, and thinking of you all a ton. So I’ll go and watch the waves and remember that the world is round, and the love I’m sending on the waves will soon wash up on your shores (assuming it doesn’t get stuck in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on the way).

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Day of School

While all you slackers were still enjoying your Sunday sloth, I had my first day of class. I sat in on a Marketing Strategy class that I hadn't planned on taking, but the professor came highly recommended. And sure enough, he was great. This is only a problem because if I take the class it blows my five-day weekend class schedule to bits. Ah well.

AGSM (Australian Graduate School of Management) is interesting. There's only about 60 people in the full-time program, so it feels very small. The part-time program is about 2000 people, but that's distributed across many campuses and cohorts, so it's much more diffuse. Anyway, it's probably not only the smaller size but also the lack of crazy Americans that means most of the intense MBA ... spirit, for lack of a better word... is missing. People don't seem to be consumed by business school the way they are in the US. And the junior high social scene hasn't reached the same frenzy. What I'm trying to say is it doesn't feel like summer camp for type A over-achievers the way Anderson does.

I'm attaching a few photos I've taken of the University of New South Wales campus to give you a flavor. I've yet to capture a photo of the huge birds that wander around, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, last night I think we all were a little homesick, because we chose to eat in a Mexican restaurant in Randwick. Like in the US, people here seem to choose Mexican for birthdays with big groups, so there was a lot of passing out of sombreros and a guy in a Mariachi outfit (who actually had a great voice) singing Sinatra's "My Way" in Spanish. The food wasn't half-bad, considering how far from home the chef was.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Of course

I woke up this morning and it's raining. Pouring actually. Now I have the fun of figuring out what the heck to do with myself. It's amazing how much harder it is to kill time here - I don't really have anything to waste it on. Oh yeah... the internet!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Things are looking up

Please note: Fiji pictures are finally up. And I added to the Hawaii photos as well.

Sorry I went dark there for a few days. I didn't have much to report, other than continuing complaints about the difficulty of finding housing. And the sound of my whining was annoying even to me, so I decided not to pollute the interwebs with it.

But now...
1) Summer is here! I don't think it's here to stay, but today was sunny and actually hot (mid eighties)! This is in comparison to the last five days, which felt like late fall in New England. The sun is strong here though (and there's no ozone layer), so even when the air is quite chilly, I've gotten a light sunburn on my face. Anyway, it was lovely to wander around today in the warmth, and definitely improved my outlook on life.

2) I gave up on the hostel. I can only take so much from the drunken Irish and English 19-year olds. My favorite moment was waking up to a bathroom full of puke before my Financial Statement Analysis placement exam on Friday morning. I haven't seen such foulness since freshman year in college. Enough was enough, so I moved up the hill to a guest house. It's not particularly cheap, but I'm splitting the room with a friend, and I don't really know what else to do. I got to the point where I decided I really was willing to pay an extra $20 a night for the privilege of sleep. So now the quiet, and the in-room internet we paid for today has definitely improved my outlook.

3) Most importantly for my state of mind, I think I found housing. Cross your fingers for me that it doesn't fall through. I'll be sharing a two bedroom apartment in Randwick (which is up the hill from Coogee, and is the area right near school). My flatmates are an Italian couple: Sylvia and Gianluca. They seem very nice, and more than anything the apartment was the only one I've seen (and I've now seen 12) that wasn't flat out grungy.

I have to admit to some buyers remorse. First of all, I can't move in until September 25. I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself until then. I can't afford to stay at the guest house that long, and I hate the thought of going back to the hostel. But more importantly, I'm worried about living this far from the center of the city. I haven't seen Sydney at all yet, but I can already tell this area is a bit isolated. It's nice living near the beach, but what's the point of moving to Sydney if I never hang out there? I'll just have to master the bus system I guess.

I did make it to the neighborhood called Surry Hills today. It's not too far from where I've been staying, and is aformerly forgotten and run-down neighborhood that's been taken over by the younger, hipper set. It definitely had a Williamsburg meets the West Village meets Hayes Valley feel. I found a great bakery and was happy as a clam. (Question: why are clams happy?)

The goal for tomorrow (as it was for today) is to finally make it to the harbor, and most particularly the opera house. In the meantime, here are some photos of the amazing wrought iron work that's on some of the buildings around here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm going to die...

And not in a good way. In a painful, squashed flat and spread across the pavement by an oncoming vehicle sort of way. Do you have any idea how fundamentally, earth-shakingly WRONG it is to drive on the left? I mean the right. I mean whatever it is they do in this former British colony. It's so, so wrong.

It's not just crossing the street that's hazardous, although that's definitely the worst. It's heading towards the escalators and realizing the up is on the left, not the right, where it out to be. It's heading for a car on the driver's side when you fully intended to be a passenger. Damn it, I can't even walk past people on the sidewalk properly, as I stick to the right, trying to be out of the way and the oncoming pedestrians stare at me, the jerk who is hogging what is clearly their side of the walkway.

Anyway, it might put me out of my misery, as I've spent all day running around in the cold and all the apartments I've seen are, frankly, crap. And overpriced. You'd think I'd be over the sticker shock coming from SF and LA (and a little of NY although that was a while ago). But there's something particularly harsh about realizing that the prices quoted are per week. But that's what I can afford to pay in a month!! By which I assume I have joined the human race in its modern incarnation, and inherited its boundless frustration with real estate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Greetings from Sydney

I made it. I feel a little bit battered from the adrenaline surges of the past several days, and I'm more than ready to find an apartment to live in and stop lugging all my crap around. I knew I didn't like traveling alone, but I'd forgotten how absolutely pretrifying I find it.

That said, all is well. First things first: I've got a mobile. Incoming calls are free for me, so buy a phone card and give me a call. To reach me from the states here's what you do:
1) Dial an international line: 011
2) Dial Australia: 61
3) Dial my number:
In summary:

I'm currently parked in an internet cafe near the hostel where I'd planned on staying. Or will stay, once the damned office reopens. Turns out the staff gets a lunch and siesta break from 1-5pm. Grrr. Mostly I'm worried about the lack of a sleeping bag. It's cold here! Especially after Fiji.

But Coogee, the beach suburb I'm staying in is crawling with backpackers. So I'm off to the hostel in the hopes that I can get both a room and a clue! I miss you all and look foward to writing more soon (hopefully with my new address)!!


Fiji was awesome! However, I can't really claim the credit for that. Here's how it all went down.

My flight left out of Honolulu at 12:35am. Picture me tired and down from the leave-taking from my family, squeezed into a window seat of a very full Air Pacific flight. But I did manage to sleep, so I wasn't feeling too rough when I got to Nadi (said Nandi). My hotel was supposed to pick me up, but they weren't there when I arrived. Evenutally, I bought a phone card and called, got no answer, waited, called again, was told they were leaving right then, waited... Two hours later I gave up and took a taxi which wasn't bad at all. Stupid hotel had made it sound like they were much further from the airport than they were. Then the taxi turns down a small road to what can only be an oil refinery and I start wondering where the hell I'm staying. Each one of these moments causes a rather unpleasant surge of adrenaline. I'm not very good at this traveling thing.

Eventually, though, I'm at the resort, and even though it's absurdly early and I don't officially have a room until that night, I get led by the very friendly staff to my garden bure (read little thatched cabin that does not have a view of the ocean). It turns out their one boat is booked on a fishing trip, but if I want to go snorkeling, they'll happily drop me off at "Beeshcombah" Island for the day.

Beachcomber Island is party central. I arrived at 10:30am and already the packs of 19 year-olds were well into the redbull and vodka. I don't understand how - it was too damn hot! I must be getting old. I snorkeled for a bit, and saw some nice fish, but not many. And the coral was completely trashed. So I lay on the beach for a while, trying to find shade and feeling meditative. Not speaking to anyone for more than two hours straight does that to me.

The buffet lunch was nearly the highlight of the trip. Turns out Fiji has a lot of Indian families who came in the 1800s as laborers for the cane fields, and the cultural influence is strong. So I had yummy fish curry with roti. I went out again for another snorkel and was just getting to a larger patch of rocks where the fish were congregating when I spotted a shark staring at me. Not a huge one, just 4 feet of terror-inducing lurkingness. I would probably have dealt better had I not just been kicked out of the water twice in Hawaii because someone spotted a shark at a beach a half-mile away. Anyway, I screamed like a little girl and got out of the water as fast a possible.

By then the fishing trip had returned to pick me up. I think the guy driving the boat felt bad for dropping me off like that, so he convinced the fisherfolk to chill in the boat while we took a 20-minute snorkel in deeper water. HOLY SHIT!!! For two reasons. 1) For those of you who know me, you know I DON'T like the ocean, or deep water (that's understating the situation considerably). And there I was, nearly calmly jumping into 20 feet of big bad ocean. It helped that the water was a crystal clear 85 degrees. 2)I've never seen anything like that snorkel in my life! Parrotfish and clownfish and coral, oh my! By then I'd abandoned the idiotic waterproof camera bag that I can't seem to figure out, so I'm afraid I have no photos. Just pick up a big glossy postcard, or a copy of National Geographic - that should about do it justice.

We headed back in to the resort, and that's when my trip had a very happy accident. I was dropping off the snorkel gear I'd borrowed from the hotel, and I saw two guys playing ping pong by the pool. This in itself is not noteworthy, except they were speaking French, which meant I had to say something to them. Can't let the chance to speak French pass me by! It turns out, my resort was next door to the local marina and yacht club, which I would never have realized if these guys hadn't explained that they were staying on their boats. So I got to spend a very nice evening hanging out with Olivier, who is French but lives in New Caledonia, and Eric, who is from Quebec, but is currently in year four of his around-the-world sail. It was great to hear about their adventures in sailing, and the next day Eric took me for a sail to prove I'm not nearly as frightened of the sport as I claim. Let me just state for the record: I like sailing. In Fiji. When the wind is not strong. And the boat never heels (sp?) more than 10 degrees. And the water is a civilized temperature. Under those conditions, I definitely like sailing.

Even better, I like snorkeling. I'm pretty proud of myself. In the afternoon, we anchored at the edge of a reef that was about 1000 yards from an island. And damn me if I didn't manage to jump into what was now 50 feet of not-so-clear water, and swim across an open stretch to the reef. Without hyperventalating, which is key while snorkeling, but hard when you're fighting off a panic attack. Ah machismo - I really think what saved me was not wanting to look like a wuss. Although my cover was blown when we got back to the boat and I had to use the restroom and admit that I'd been too scared to piss. (TMI, I know, but I'm trying to find ways to explain what a big deal this is to me.) Anyway, the snorkeling was mind-blowing. Me loves the colorful fishies.

So that was my Fiji experience. It was exactly the kind of happy-accident-opens-new-directions that I've always hoped for in my travels. Even if I wasn't quite spontaneous to stay in Fiji an extra week and learn to sail for real. So here's to what will hopefully be the first of many adventures and many awesome people I run into!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hawaii, day 3

So far life in Hawaii has been pretty mellow. My first day here we poked around a bit, rented snorkel equipment, and then found a secluded lava bay to try it out in. We saw some fish, but not huge schools of them. The most memorable part of the day was the mahi mahi sandwich I had for lunch.

The next day we drove to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We took an older highway to avoid construction in Kailua Kona and saw some of the more funky, more interesting towns on this side of the island. My favorite was the big pink hotel you see in the photos, with the bathroom in a little room and the end of the walkway. That has to be the urinal with the best view in the state!

We stopped at the Punalu'u black sand beach for a picnic lunch. (Special shout out here to my sister Mireille, who is an amazingly good cook and has been keeping us all marvelously fed here.) It was crazy swimming at the beach - the ocean is quite rough, but in addition, you've got cold fresh water seeping out from the ground here, floating on top of the warmer salt ocean. It's the opposite of what you normally feel in a lake or a swimming pool and when the waves are tossing you around, it's totally disorienting.

Finally, toward mid-afternoon, we made it to the volcano. Kilauea was spewing smoke, and very impressive, although we didn't see any new lava flows. I particularly liked the Chain of Craters Road, which ends abruptly where a lava flow crossed the road 15 years ago and the park authorities decided to leave it be. I'd have photos of that for you, except my camera battery died partway through the day. Note to future self - buy a spare battery.

Today we wanted to avoid spending much time in the car after yesterday's all-day drive. We had lunch in the ranch town of Kamuela (aka Waimea), and then went to see the Waipi'o Valley. Not having a 4WD, we decided not to chance getting stuck partway down the steep grade and instead went and got coconut ice cream. We ended the day at the beach at the Mauna Kea resort. It was eerily beautiful. Beautiful because it's a postcard-perfect crescent of fine sand with blue green water. Eerie because the resort is closed, so we had the beach to ourselves! The snorkeling was amazing, and I definitely need to figure out how to use the waterproof camera bag I bought so I can prove it!

So, does anyone know if the square box on the power cord for my mac acts as a voltage adapter? I'd prefer not to fry my computer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And she's off! (finally)

Apologies for the delay in posting - I spent the last half week alternating between running around like crazy and sitting around having a pity party. Neither of which are particularly interesting, especially considering this is supposed to be a travel blog, and there I was, two weeks after the first post, still not traveling.

I did make it to the Chihuly exhibit at the de Young museum. I highly recommend a trip to anyone who is going to be in SF before September 28th. Yeah, it's not challenging art, but it's damn cool. I keep thinking I want to take glass blowing someday, although the thought of scorching my lungs with toxic fumes is a bit daunting.

So now I'm sitting on the Lanai at the Vista Waikaloa resort near Kona, where my mom won time in an auction, and she and two of my sisters and I have congregated for a girls week. Well, an abbreviated one - American Airlines was having some trouble being an airline yesterday. They canceled my first flight, along with numerous others, so I would up arriving at the end of the day instead of the beginning. It's amazing how much reading you can get done in eight hours of sitting in the airport. They made up for it just slightly by taking off directly over SF, which allowed me to get the following photos out the plane window:

The first two photos are of Jess Zenkstrong and the crew at Sean and Courtney's newly combined pad. Shortney are superior hosts, up to and including giving you an extra big martini glass so you can chug their yummy champagne, as Jess is so nicely demonstrating (thanks Vanna!).

I'm off to cook breakfast for the lazy bums who are better adjusted to Hawai'i time. Hopefully I'll have a chance to try out my underwater camera adapter, and will soon be able to start the colorful part of my travels. I miss you all already.