Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Couple More Pictures

Since I don't have copies of either of these pictures on my own camera, the following pictures are fully attributable to Brett Banka, but I thought you might like to see them.

 This is our awesome group, on campus for orientation.
These are the University of Queensland hats that were our present from the International Programs staff.

Heading to Heron Island! (Or, a long blog post)

As one of our orientation activities, the program staff taught us how to play cricket.  It was fun once we sort of figured out how the rules work.  It is more or less like baseball, only you run back and forth in a straight line between two sets of posts and have two runners at a time and you hold/swing the (flat) bat like a combination of a baseball bat and a golf club.  My team accidentally hit the ball into the tree you see in the background, which gave us the cricket equivalent of a home run.

The last few days have been hectic.  This morning, we moved out of our hostel.  This was a big ordeal, as we had to haul all of our luggage (two big suitcases per person + backpacks, etc, times 18 people) on the city bus system to campus.  We had our second full day of classes today.  The teachers are very entertaining.  The terrestrial ecology teacher (who taught us for the entire day today) tells us stories, and always ends his lectures in a very epic fashion that makes you want to clap and think deep thoughts about the subject at the same time.  He uses props, like dinosaur heads and giant fake orchids and Stitch (of Lilo and...) stuffed toys, to demonstrate his points.

We are leaving this evening on an overnight bus.  I will be off in the wilderness for the next two weeks, with minimal internet access for the first week and none at all for the second.  We are first going to Heron Island to study marine biology.  'Tis the season for baby sea turtles to hatch and run down to the water!  We are also going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, among other activities.  Then, we are going to Carnavon Gorge, where we will be camping, and will hike around and look at lots of cool rocks, plants, animals, and Aboriginal rock art.

I finally got a cell phone, which has been quite an ordeal.  I had to head back into the city at lunch today, because the folks at Virgin Mobile gave me a faulty sim card which didn't activate.  This was a better option than waiting for the customer service folks (with whom I spent an hour on the phone) to take 10 business days to fix the problem.

Some Australian vocabulary for you:
Chook = Chicken
Mozzie = Mosquito
Maccas = McDonald's
Lollies = Candy
"Off like a frog in a sock"

I'm very glad that I take public transportation everywhere, even if it is very expensive.  I'm pretty sure that driving in Brisbane would be a miserable experience.  It has a lot of one-way streets, roundabouts, pouring rain, and construction.

Many things here are expensive, particularly food.  The best cheap options so far have been grocery stores, farmers markets (we got a HUGE bag of fruit on special for $5!), and bars (which often have dinner/beer specials).  Vegetarian food is slightly challenging.  Most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option, but let me just say that there are a lot of veggie burgers.  Oh!  An interesting thing: here, they often put a slice of beet on any burger you get.  It is surprisingly tasty.  There also appears to be no mustard other than honey mustard.  There is definitely no Mexican food, but I was expecting that.

Hostels are interesting places.  The residents range from sleazy, drunk guys to the little girl who sang "Mamma Mia" really loudly in the kitchen this morning.  My roommate fortunately obtained a fan for our room a couple nights ago, so it wasn't boiling at night and I could avoid waking up to the jackhammers at 4 a.m. (we were next to a construction site, and our window was on the street).  I still haven't been sleeping well.  Myself and some of my fellow students went out last night, and even though I went to bed semi-late, I still got less than 6 hours of sleep.  This length of rest is becoming an unfortunate habit.  The overnight bus tonight will probably not help.

Looks like the other students are heading off to dinner.  Since I didn't eat lunch (due to the cell phone fiasco), I think it would be a good idea for me to join them.


More pictures

 This is a picture of the Brisbane river.  Our hostel was only a few blocks away.  Brisbane had a lot of bridges crossing this river, but unlike in the Bay Area, each of the bridges is designed in a different architectural style.  I will have to post pictures of the interesting spiderweb/ship-without-sails footbridge at some point.
 This is an ibis.  It's a scavenger bird, and is the Australian version of a pigeon or a seagull (although they have pigeons as well).  There are a lot of these on campus - they sneak up next to you and try to steal your food!
 At least one of the lakes on campus has these really big eels swimming around!
 Viewing the eels in the lake.
Tree with interesting seed pods.  There are a lot of really neat plants here, and I will know more about them as my terrestrial ecology class continues.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pictures of UQ

 This is one of the really neat water dragons!
 There are a lot of interesting birds wandering around.
The campus has quite a few lakes.  Beautiful!

Brisbane, Day 2

I am rather sleep-deprived, due to waking up three times last night – one of which was a lovely encounter with a fire alarm and building evacuation because someone was smoking pot in the basement.  I’ve been officially awake since 5:30 a.m.  Breakfast was moldy toast (don’t ask), peanut butter, jam, cereal, milk, and vegemite (which I didn't try, because I was out of toast).

The other 17 students in my program are very nice.  We've been spending all of our time together as a giant group, and people keep staring at us.  This was especially bad when we were all wearing matching University of Queensland hats, carrying UQ bags, and loudly pointing at the interesting creatures and plants around us.

The University of Queensland has an absolutely gorgeous campus.  We toured it today, as part of our orientation.  The architecture and overall feel are somewhat reminiscent of Stanford.  Other than that, it feels like going to school in a park or nature preserve.  There are huge ponds, with fountains and lots of wildlife.  We saw a kookaburra, a wide variety of ducks, many ibises (which try to steal your food), turtles, eels, cockatoos, water dragons, and others!

In about three days, I will be heading off on a two-week field trip with minimal internet access.  I promise details of baby sea turtle hatchings, the Great Barrier Reef, ancient Aboriginal rock art, and other interesting things when I return.  Hopefully my blog posts will become more entertaining as I become less jetlagged and less pressed for time on my internet access (we have been using the slow-but-free wifi at the local McDonald's).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Arrival in Brisbane

I arrived safely in Brisbane this morning, after 16 hours in flight and several hours of waiting in airports.  Getting through customs in Sydney took the entire 2 hours I had before my next flight (because I had to collect my baggage, and transfer to a distant terminal for my domestic flight).  The trip was mostly uneventful, overall.  I ate pretty good vegetarian meals on the airplane, didn't have anyone in the middle seat in my row, my solitary rowmate slept for about 12 hours straight, I slept for 6 hours, read my book, and watched two movies ("The King's Speech" - good, and "Red" - meh).

The folks at the University here picked us up at the airport, dropped us off in a hostel, and left us with no instructions, food, or rooms available (the rooms became available several hours after we got there, so we had to wander around with backpacks, etc. in tow).  We finally did get to meet all the other students in the program, and eventually we got to check in to our dorm-style rooms.  We went out as a group for the evening, to a lovely pizza-and-beer bistro/bar on the Brisbane riverfront, which had Sunday specials (very good, because food here is incredibly expensive).  We got to watch the sunset, spend time talking with each other, and admire the HUGE bats that were flying overhead.

So far, Brisbane reminds me of a strange cross between San Francisco and London, with a touch of Florida weather thrown in for good measure.

Orientation starts tomorrow, so I will have more news soon!  For now, it is 7 pm here, but it feels like bedtime to me!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Just a few days before I head off to Australia to study marine biology and terrestrial ecology.  I am looking forward to an extended quarter full of coral reefs, rainforests, taking classes, meeting new people, and exploring Brisbane.  I won't be in the correct part of the country to see any leafy sea dragons, but I'm sure I will see plenty of other wonderful creatures on my snorkeling and hiking expeditions.  It will also be interesting to see whether I can survive as a vegetarian in a place with a very meat-based cuisine.

To allay your fears: yes, I plan to avoid Australia's many, many venomous and dangerous creatures.  I am also freshly prepared with self defense skills and six months of swim classes.

I don't know how often I will post updates on this blog, as I will be spending a good deal of time living in field stations without internet access, but I will try to do so relatively frequently.  You are (of course) under no obligation to read anything I post; this is simply a good way for me to update friends and family in the short amounts of time during which I will have internet access.

A little request: If you happen to know of any good places to do social dancing (of any form) in Brisbane, please let me know.