Tuesday, February 19, 2013

2 Weeks Behind Again...but having a blast in Adelaide

Last time I posted I had just gone to the barbecue with CMU kids.  That night we had also gone to a nightclub and so I became friends with Abhi, Srini, and LaCole.  That week we hung out for dinner/drinks a couple of times.
That Saturday (the 9th) was the Lunar New Year so the Chinese students threw a huge party.  A big part off it was dumplings!  After watching some of the students make dumplings for a bit, they invited me to try.  It's not nearly as easy as it looks!  You have to get the right amount of stuffing in the wrappers and they're hard to seal!  By the end of the night, my dumplings were almost as good as the ones made by the Chinese students!  I was  pretty proud of myself.  It was also sort of a potluck and a bunch of the students brought dishes that were native.  Chinese Chinese food and American Chinese food are very different.  I think I like the Americanized version just a little better.

Then, Sunday morning LaCole, Srini, Abhi and I got up early and rented a car to go wine tasting in the Barossa Valley.  It's only about an hour away and there are a ton of vineyards around.  Our first stop was Jacob's Creek.  They had some really nice wines and I bought a bottle of Fiano.  We also had a nice lunch out on the patio.  About halfway through lunch a huge gust of wind came across and knocked out all of the lounge chairs and some of the chairs that were at the other tables.  It was crazy.  Our wine, food, and my camera survived so all was well.  After lunch we visited 3 or 4 other places including one that had an AMAZING cider.  We bought a case of it and split up the 6-packs.  It was a really awesome day.
LaCole, Abhi, and I before our lunch came

Abhi and Srini

All the wines we tasted at Jacob's Creek

Abhi in front of a huge cask at another vineyard

All 4 of us at Jacob's Creek

Srini, LaCole and I

With Abhi instead of me.

The next week was pretty uneventful.  I joined a gym and got 3 free Kickstart training sessions which were pretty good.  I've since signed up to train with Michael regularly.  He tells me I'm doing "Heaps good" and is all about giving me an "ass whoopin'"  He's really funny though and is keeping things interesting and different so it's all good.

Since I became friends with Abhi, LaCole, and Srini, they started inviting me out to do stuff all week. Tuesday we went for cheap "fancy" pizza.  $8 for what's normally $18-20 seems good to me.  On Mondays it's $6 and apparently that's the regular day to go.  We also checked out Duke, a bar/club on Currie St. and Balcony Bar which is right on King William.  It's nice to finally have people to go out with and hang out with.  Abhi lives at Urbanest too, so it's suuuper convenient.

Since everyone started turning in homework, I was really busy last week.  The students here are spoiled compared to in Pittsburgh.  They whine much more about grades and argue for every little point.  It's very unbecoming.  They also don't really respect the concept of office hours.  I have specific time set aside for each of the classes to answer questions/clarify etc.  Most of the time, very few people come during those times but they'll show up at any other time of the day.  It's distracting and when I tell them I'm busy they ignore me and sit down anyway.  They're going to be in for a huge shock when they get to Pittsburgh...

Then, this weekend was super hot.  It was in the high 90s all weekend.  On Friday was the Fringe Parade opening "4 weeks of Frivolity and Fun"  Basically performers of all sorts have shows going on every single night.  It's a boho/hipster/artsy-fartsy kind of a thing but there are music acts and comedians and dance troupes and all other things.  The parade was quite ridiculous, lots of costumes and fun.  After the parade we went out to check out a bunch of the opening night parties which were not as wild as we thought.  However, there is a park that gets converted into "The Garden of Unearthly Delights" and across the street another that this year is called "Gluttony".  We wandered around Gluttony and they had a silent dance party which was totally wild.  The way it works is you pay $10 for a set of headphones and then you dance.  Everybody is listening to the same thing but to the observer it's mostly silent.  It sounded like the most ridiculous thing ever but it was actually awesome!  After LaCole went home, Abhi and I stopped for gelato for the walk home.

Saturday I spent all day on campus and then came home and tried to make homemade buffalo sauce.  It didn't taste like the real thing at all and I was really disappointed.  I had a quiet night in after the frivolity of Friday night.  Sunday was ungodly hot as well, easily 99-100 so I mostly hid out in the aircon.  I did laundry and showered twice because it was so hot.  I then met up with a new friend at a coffee shop and we ended up wandering around the Garden of Unearthly Delights.  It was really cool!  I need to go back with my camera.

Today I spent ALL day grading the databases assignments and I'm barely halfway through.  It's going to be an exhausting day tomorrow.  Hopefully I can get them all done. 

No weekend plans just yet, although Saturday night is Jon's 21st birthday party.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's the Superbowl?

People here don't watch American Football but Facebook and Twitter are blowing up with posts about the Ravens and 49ers so I know it's happening.  I tried to watch the livestream but CBS figured out I'm not in the US so it was blocked.  Not that I cared that much, but no Superbowl for me.  I am in search of Buffalo Wings here though.  So far, I don't think they exist.  I found a recipe for homemade buffalo sauce here and I think I can find all of these ingredients at the grocery store.

Anyway, this weekend was good.  Friday night I had a quiet night in and watched TV in the Media Room with a couple of the other people living at the nest.  Saturday morning I woke up and went to campus to teach my recitations.  Apparently that's a CMU word, everyone else knows them as Review Sessions.  The morning class was Stats for IT Managers and there's almost 50 people in that class so I felt like I was shouting the entire time so that the people in the back of the room could hear me.  We reviewed the stats software Minitab, Microsoft Word's Equation Editor and did some sample Probability questions.  In the afternoon was Empirical Methods for Policy.  The policy students are not numerically inclined.  It took them much longer to get through the Minitab tutorial and using the Equation Editor.  I had to rush through the last 5 minutes of graphing in excel because we were so far behind.  It's annoying that these review sessions were scheduled for Saturdays all semester, it's going to hinder my ability to take weekend trips...  I can probably make things work to go away Sunday-Monday or even Sunday-Tuesday occasionally since I don't have anything going on on Mondays or Tuesdays, I just have to plan it ahead.

Saturday night the CMU kids that live at Urbanest hosted a barbecue which was super fun.  Lots of people, including folks that don't live there came by and I got a chance to get to know them and hang out with them rather than standing in front of a classroom talking at them.  We had a really good time.  After we cleaned up, the handful of us that were still around went to a nightclub around the corner, Swish. It was a lot of fun and it was nice to not be on my own on Saturday night again.

Yesterday I slept in and then took the tram to Glenelg, the beach town.  I spent a couple of hours reading my book on the sand and then walked around the town.  When I got back, I had a quick dinner and hung out in the media room.  Ric was watching Cricket and explained the basics of the game to me.  It's not that complicated, especially when it's on in the background because he was able to point stuff out as it was happening.  I did laundry and hung out with people in the media room.  Australian tv is a weird mix of American TV shows and movies, "Australian-ized TV shows" like Four Weddings Australia, and Australian TV shows.

Today I'm hanging out on campus.  This afternoon I'm administering a databases exemption exam.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A post that is long overdue

Last time I posted I was heading out early in the morning for my dive trip.  The trip started out great, it was a beautiful blue sky day.  We met at the office and filled out some paperwork, basically signed my life away in case of an emergency.  Then, they informed us that a storm was brewing out at sea and offered us seasickness medication.  Once everybody was at the office (there were only 8 of us) we got into a shuttle and headed to the airport.  Then we got on a private plane for a low flight out to Lizard Island where we'd be meeting the boat.  The flight was awesome, we could see lots of the reef, our pilot also pointed out some interesting highlights including a shipwreck and a section of reef that Captain Cook (I think) had hit and had to go get his ship repaired.  Since it was a low altitude flight, we had to wear our life vests the entire time, that was a new experience.
Once we landed we had a short walk from the airstrip on Lizard Island (which is a national park of some sort) down to the beach.  We got down to the beach and it was beautiful, perfect sand and warm water.  We took little dinghies to the boat and climbed on board.  We dropped our things into our cabins and met in the main living area to meet the crew.  There were 5 people who had stayed on the boat from the 4-day trip, so there were a total of 13 of us and I think there were 12 crew members, a pretty nice ratio.  We met the crew and did dive histories with the trip director while we cruised to our first point - the cod hole.  Since I hadn't been diving in a few years, I was on the introductory dive with Steve and Stefan with Todd as our leader.  We got suited up and headed into the water.  Once we did a buoyancy control exercise and a buddy breathe practice, we set out to find some Potato Cod.  Those fish were MASSIVE!  Nearly person sized.  They were also super curious and came really close to us.  I got a couple of funny pictures of Todd trying to get away as one kept creeping up to him, I got another of one nearly eating Stefan's tank.  After the dive was lunch and we moved on to our second site of the day.  We went to Pixie's Pinnacle which was basically a pinnacle and we went round and round until we ran out of air - essentially.  We started at about 70-80 feet and made our way up as we went around it in circles.  This dive expedition was nice because they chose pretty small sites and let us go off on our own with our buddy(ies).  We saw some cool fish and coral and a rock fish which is apparently super deadly and also happens to camouflage with the coral really well.  The weather started to get rough after that dive, so for our night dive we moved to another site.  Since it was my first night dive, I went on the guided dive with Charlie - a blonde divemaster chick from Germany.  She got us a little lost initially and we did a circle around the boat before she found the mooring and we went down. Night diving is definitely a little scarier, although all the lights on the boat are on so you definitely know which way is up.  We each had a flashlight and we found eels and fish and a really big crab.  The crab was really cool, it poked out of its little cave to say hello to us.  We headed up and got showered before a late dinner and after dinner I passed out.  My bunk was meant to be shared with a stranger but since the boat was so empty, I got it all to myself.
At 6 the next morning the trip leader woke us up and we got suited up for our first dive of the day.  We went to Steve's Bommie which was another pinnacle and started at 97ft, my deepest dive yet. We went round and round it.  The top of the pinnacle was at about 15ft so we did our safety stop swimming around there.  There were anemones and we found Nemo!  When we got back to the boat, after breakfast we got some sad news.  We were less than 40 nautical miles from where the cyclone was brewing and so the trip would have to be cut short.  We spent the rest of the day and night making our way back to Cairns.  In the morning we packed up and met with Dorothy from the office.  She gave us our credits and then we took a bus back to our hotels.
I spent the day at the hostel because it was raining and disgusting outside.  I rebooked my flight to leave earlier since the weather was bad and I returned my underwater camera.  That night the hostel had a barbecue so I tried both Kangaroo and Crocodile.  I don't think either will make its way into my normal diet anytime soon...
Back in Adelaide Thursday I went to Rhino Room with Jon, it was round 3 of the comedy competition but it wasn't as good this time.  Friday I met with Janusz for a couple of hours and then went to the back to school barbecue

Saturday was Australia Day!  The nest had a barbecue so I hung out with some people.  Ric, Gunawan and Wei, and some girls from Canada who had just moved in.  They were nice and it was a lovely afternoon.  Then, there was the Australia Day Parade!  The parade went down King William Street, the center of town leading to a big park along the river.  It was a fascinating parade, it was basically a multicultural parade.  Each of the international communities in Adelaide marched in the parade and waved their own countries' flags.  After the parade, we followed it into the park.  The park was set up for a huge concert.  The opener was a winner of Australian Idol and was kind of boring and then the main act was called Potbelleez and was a guy singing while two other guys messed with electronics.  He did play an acoustic song at the end though so he was at least sort of talented. It was good dancing music and the crowd was pretty excited about them.  At the end of the show there were fireworks!  I will always love fireworks.

Sunday I went grocery shopping finally and hung out at the nest while doing laundry.  I watched part of the Australian Open with some other people in the TV room.

Monday I met with Janusz again and joined a gym.  Tuesday, school started so I've been hanging out in my office this week.  I've prepped for my recitations on Saturday and gone over the homework and lecture notes for the week.  I also reviewed a couple of people's resumes and cover letters for Janusz, boy is their writing terrible!  Tomorrow I have the official TAs meeting so I'll meet some of the people who are TAs for other classes.

No plans yet for the weekend other than my two recitations on Saturday.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Quickie before I Spend 3 days in the Great Barrier Reef

Today I rode the Skyrail (read gondola) to Kuranda, a village in the rainforest.  There were two stops to walk around the rainforest before getting up to the top.  I wandered around Kuranda for a few hours.  Kuranda is basically like a tourist resort town, shop after shop of souvenirs and knicknacks.  I did buy an opal necklace though - it was on sale for $49 and is pretty.  An art gallery was also having a closeout so I bought two oil paintings for $75.  Taylor if you're reading this I'll send you pictures when I get back to Adelaide.  One is this modern/abstract painting of sailboats and the other one is these 3 people dancing in the rain under an umbrella.  They also had a butterfly sanctuary in the village.  There were hundreds of butterflies in there and they were beautiful.  Butterflies don't sit still so I don't think I got any pictures.  Then, I took the scenic railroad down from the village back into town.  The views were amazing from the train.  I took so many pictures I ran down the battery on my camera!  Today was the first day I actually killed the battery. 

I got back to the hostel and set up another island trip for Thursday since the boat gets back at 8am Thursay morning.  This time I'll be going to Green Island.  Hopefully it will be sunny...

Tomorrow morning the cab picks me up at 6:45 to bring me to the dive office and from there I head on a small plane to Lizard Island for 12 dives in 3 days!  This is the website for my trip: http://www.mikeball.com/3-nights-fly-dive-cod-hole

G'day until Thursday Mates!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pink as the Passion Pit Shirt...

First of all, Happy Birthday Daddy!

Today I went to Moreton Island with Dolphin Wild Cruises (http://www.dolphinwild.com.au).  The day started early, at 7:45 I got picked up from the hostel.  We picked up a family of 4 and a girl my age, Poppy, from another hostel and set off about an hour's drive away to the marina.  When we got to the marina, there were a ton of bright blue jellies in the water.  They were like an electric blue and were so cool to see.  Then we hopped on the boat ready to start the day.  After a 20 minute safety/introduction talk, we headed out toward Moreton Island.  On the way a couple of pods of bottlenose dolphins swam neft to the boat and were awesome to see.

After about an hour, we made it to the island and they got set up for boom netting.  Basically, they put a small fishing net in the water attached to the back of the boat and have 4-6 people climb on.  Then, they drive the boat and you hold on tight.  It reminded me of tubing at LWC.  I got to go twice and it was awesome.  Then, we suited up in snorkel gear to go snorkeling around the Tangalooma wrecks.  7 ships between 1964 and 1988 were placed there to create a breakwater for the island and they've turned into a reef.  We saw some pretty fish and it was cool to explore around the wrecks because it was something I'd never done before.  It also made me really excited for Cairns.

After snorkeling they served lunch.  It was pretty simple sandwiches and chicken but it was fine for a day on the water.  We had about 2 hours to just hang out in the water by the island.  Poppy and I swum along for a bit and floated in the ocean.  She got out, but I wasn't ready to until we had to.  I grabbed a noodle and hung on to the buoy that they'd sent out as a swim marker.  As it swayed back and forth in the current, I swayed with it.  I stayed there til we had to get out of the water.  The boat went further up the island and we saw more dolphins, turtles and dugongs (South Pacific Manatees ish).  Then, something really amazing, and you knew it was amazing because the tour operators were excited, we saw a seal.  We slowed down and it started playing around the boat.  Then, it jumped onto the back deck and tried to climb the ladder that had been brought in!  It was so cool!  When it hopped off it was finally time to head home.  Poppy and I sat at the top deck for the trip home.  I'm pretty sure it was in that last hour that the sun finally got to me.  Now my back is burnt and my arms are a little pink.  The spf 50 lasted a long time but I'm going to need double and triple applications in Cairns!

It was an awesome day!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Delayed update, I'm in Brisbane now

So on Monday I got halfway through a blog post and then fell asleep.  Was busy all day Tuesday and now that I'm in Brisbane, this hostel doesn't have free wifi  so I can't post that one.  But, I paid $5 for an hour of internet on their computers so I'll see how far I can get with this update.

I did the free Sydney walking tour which was fabulous.  It was about 3 hours starting at Town Hall and went all over the place finishing at Circular quay.  The tour guide did a really great job and I would definitely recommend it if you're heading that way.  I got to learn some of the history if Sydney as well as see things I never would have found.  Then, I went exploring around The Rocks which was the original convict settlement area and is now a really cute neighborhood.  I visited The Rocks Discovery Museum and had lunch at a cute little Italian cafe that had an outdoor seating area.  After lunch I walked around The Rocks some more and then walked over to the Harbour Bridge.  One of the pylons on the south (I think) side of the river is a little museum and for $11 you can climb to the top and have a beautiful view of the harbor.  Since it was thunderstorming during my bridge climb, I wanted some nice pictures of the opera house from afar in the sun.  The museum was also really cool because they had replicas of people building the bridge and a video showing it.  Then, I went back to Circular Quay to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art which is free.  There were some cool exhibits in there, but I got there at 4 and it closed at 5 so I had to speed through the museum.  I hung out around Circular Quay for an hour and then at 6 went on the free Rocks walking tour.  We went through a bunch of little lanes and passages and learned about the convict history of the rocks and saw some of the historical construction.  It was also a really well done tour.  After the tour ended, I made my way back to Circular Quay so I could finally see the Bridge and the Opera House lit up at night.  I had dinner at the little temporary bar they have set up for the Sydney Festival and took about a billion pictures of the bridge at sunset.  Then when it was dark, I walked around to the other side of the Quay and took a bunch of pictures of the opera house all lit up.  Then I headed home for the night.

Tuesday was my Sydney beach day.  After asking a few different people whether I should go to Manly or Bondi Beach, the overwhelming response was Manly Beach so that's where I went.  I got up earlyish and headed to Circular Quay to catch a ferry to the beach.  I was on the 9am ferry and it was a pretty  trip up that took about a half hour.  When I got off the ferry, I stopped at the tourist information center and got a map.  I walked across the Manly Corso which had tons of surf shops and other random stores and made it to the beach.  I walked along the water and saw these kids from the Manly Surf Club doing drills.  It was cute - these kids were like 11 years old, maybe younger and they had to paddle out to a spot and back as fast as they could and switch with their partners.  I walked along the water until the beach stopped and it turned into rocks.  Then I walked around the path.  The next beach over was on Shelley Cove which is a protected area because it has some sort of rare sea lettuce or something.  I walked along the path to the beach and found a nice spot in the shade.  It started out quiet - at this point it was only about 10:30, but it got more crowded.  There were tons of people snorkeling and playing in the water.  The water was really cold though and I was really happy with my kindle so I didn't go in.  By about 1 I started to get hungry so I headed back to the Corso to get some lunch.  I got the $10 Tuesday special at a burger joint.  I wandered around the shops for a bit and then got on the 2:45 ferry back to Sydney.  I walked home from the Quay and showered to get ready for the opera.  It turned out that one of the girls staying in the hostel also had a ticket to see La Boheme so we got dinner together and took a bus to the opera house.  We sat at the opera bar for drinks before the show and then we headed inside to our seats.  The opera was beautiful and I'm really glad I got to see a show there.  Seeing it made me really want to watch Rent.  We took a bus back to the hostel and went to bed.

I woke up and finished packing.  The airport shuttle picked me up at 8:45 and I got to the airport at about 9:30 for a 10:55 flight.  The queue was INSANE!  It wrapped around a few times outside of the roped area.  I got in line at 9:38 and I didn't actually get checked in until 10:20.  I don't think I've ever had that crazy of a line at an airport before.  It was a dumb system, you had to check yourself in at a kiosk and it printed your luggage tag for you to put on your bag and then you had to go up to a counter and check it in and they ripped off the luggage tag and reprinted it.  I get having to go up to a station because they have to weigh your bag, but why did I put the luggage tag on if they were just going to rip it off?  The flight took off about 20 minutes late and I slept for the whole thing so I'm pretty sure it was uneventful.  I landed in Brisbane and took a cab to the hostel.  This one is much bigger although I'm in a 6 bedroom dorm.  There's a pool, tennis court and a bar.  There's also a mini-mart inside and 12 computers since there's no wifi.  Once I got my stuff settled, I grabbed a map and headed out to explore.  I made it to the river and came upon a ferris wheel.  I decided to ride it and it turned out that there was a voice over pointing out all of the sights in Brisbane so it helped me get a sense of where things were.  I walked along the parklands on both sides of the river and meandered back to the hostel.  I sat by the pool for an hour or two to finish my book.  When I got to my room, one of my roommates was there.  Her name is Rose and she's from England.  We went down to the bar and enjoyed the $5 Bulmers Cider Wednesday night special for a few hours.  Then it was bedtime.

Today was great!  I left the hostel around 9am and made my way towards the river where I'd be picking up my cruise to the Koala Sanctuary.  The boat showed up at 9:30 and was off at 10am.  For the hour cruise there was a recorded tour pointing things out along the river and giving some history.  Brisbane has been prone to some really bad floods, in 1974 and again in 2011.  After about an hour, we made it to Lone Pine. I wandered a bit and found the reptiles and then the Kangaroo Pen.  I bought a $2 bag of food and spent about 45 minutes taking pictures of and feeding kangaroos.  I got to see a Joey pop out of its mother's pouch which was so cute!  These Roos were super tame and were more than happy to eat out of my hand and it was a lot of fun.  Then, I went to the koala presentation and got to pet the koala that they brought out for the demo.  Then, the piece de resistance was actually holding and cuddling the koala.  They're much heavier than you expect.  I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the park and taking pictures of sleeping koalas in trees.

There's two minutes of internet left on my timer so I'm going to leave it off here but tomorrow I'm heading to Moreton Island to go sandboarding and snorkeling which should be tons of fun!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A gloomy grey day in Sydney

I'm super tired so tonight is just a few pictures. Loved the harbor cruise, opera house tour and the bridge climb. I wish it would have been sunny instead of Thunderstorming but it was still really cool. Mom, I'll do it again with you if it's supposed to be sunny.
My bridge climb pictures are on Facebook, a small selection of today's pictures are here.