Happy Aussie-Canadian Thanksgiving!

Hey All:

Sorry for the additional delay, I’m still pretty busy with school assignments here. I’ve only got one exam during the exam period, which has left me with a number of papers and take-home exams to worry about until next Friday.

In the meantime, I have had a few little adventures here there that have been quite fun.

A few weeks ago, during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, my Canadian friend (Christina) and I decided that we’d cook up a real traditional feast. It turned out to be quite challenging without a fully functioning kitchen and a mom/grandma to do the lion’s share of the work for us! We ended up harassing our kitchen staff in our residence and phoned Christina’s mom several times for more instructions.

The chickens all stuffed and ready for the oven

Since turkey isn’t really common here (and it’s much more challenging to cook), we purchased two small chickens instead. We also managed to make homemade stuffing, apple pie and a few random veggies. With the exception of the mashed potatoes, everything was pretty delicious! However, I have no real interest in cleaning out and stuffing a chicken again anytime soon.

Urbe helping us out!

While the feast was no substitute for the traditional meal back home with the family, it was really nice to create our own Australian Thanksgiving and share it with some friends here.  It’s not something I’ll really ever have the chance to do again with the friends I’ve made here, which made the meal pretty special.

A little pre-dinner jig to some classic 90s tunes

Also, most people seem to be well aware of the American version, and it was nice to teach them about ours as well. All in all, I think it was a great way to spend holiday away from home, without feeling like I was missing out on much. Especially, since we created our own version of the holiday here, which including a lot more random dancing than we do back home!

Dinner finally being served (at approx. 9pm)

Since thanksgiving, I’ve been doing a little more of the same – schoolwork. While I’ve enjoyed my traveling down under, I am here for school and it needs my attention from time to time.  On the positive side, I have found some of my courses to be quite interesting.  In particular, I’ve spent a ton of time researching for my human trafficking class.

I’m looking into reasons why human trafficking victims turn into perpetrators, which is pretty much up my soon-to-be defence lawyer alley. The nice thing about this project, and the work of my fellow classmates, is that a lot of the research from this class is sent to government and international organizations to help advocate for changes to the legal system.  It makes doing the research that much more motivating, since it has the potential to be used in a very positive way.

That’s about it from me for now, I’ll throw my books away for a little while this weekend and get up to something interesting!

Cheers!

Hobbits, Sheep and More Rugby!

Hey all!

I’m sorry this post is so delayed. I got back from New Zealand Tuesday morning and had to jump into non-stop school mode for a few days. Things have cooled-off now and I’ve finally got a chance to provide the detailed account that my 11 days of kiwi travelling deserves.

I’d been planning my New Zealand trip ever since I found out I was going to be down under while the World Rugby Cup (RWC) was taking place there and was not disappointed! Before this trip, I knew the Aussies loved the sport, but I had no idea how absolutely insane the Kiwis are over rugby. The New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, are heroes over there.

This quickly became apparent as we boarded our flight with Air New Zealand and watched the airline safety video dedicated to the All Blacks. I’ve attached a link to the safety video, I think it’s hilarious! Afterwards, we were served tea in All Black cups and, upon landing, we received New Zealand passport stamps that said “World Rugby Cup” and had a rugby ball in the top, right corner! I still can’t believe my customs stamp says RWC!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDgWR6YrOCI

My Air New Zealand All Black cup

We spent our first two days in Auckland where the main stadium is and did some exploring of the rugby “Fan Zone” there.  There’s this beloved giant, inflatable rugby ball in the zone.  Inside the ball a video is played which highlights some of the All Black history, as well as the story of the creation of New Zealand. The Maori people (New Zealand’s aboriginals) believe it was created by their sky father and earth mother.   It was all very interesting and entertaining.

Me, Tristan & Christina in front of the rugby ball

The really great thing about Auckland, and everywhere that we visited on the North Island, was how genuine and inviting everyone was.  People from all over the world were in New Zealand for the games and everyone seemed interested making the best out of this RWC experience with everyone around them. The kiwis also seemed more than happy to host the world for this event. I loved it!

A random rugby inflatable

While in Auckland we also did a little exploring of the landscape. We hiked a very old, former volcano in the middle of city, Mt. Eden, and took a ton of pictures from there.  There were endless views of the surrounding hills and ocean.

Christina & I on top of Mt. Eden

Following our first few days in Auckland, we headed to the middle of the North Island, to the city of Napier.  Two of Canada’s four rugby games where played here.  We were there for the Canada game against Japan.

The two Canada games were actually the only games played in this city and because of this, it seemed as though the city of Napier kind of unofficially adopted Canada as their country of choice to cheer for.  The city was divided into four cheering sections, three of which were for the three teams that played at the stadium, plus one section for the All Black fans. Canada’s section was definitely the biggest and busiest!

Outside of the designated Canadian pub in Napier

It was really cool being surrounded by so many Canadians so far from home. It was also my first time since being down under, that people automatically assumed I was Canadian instead of American! (It probably had something to do with the Canadian flag I wore as a cape, 75% of the time I was in New Zealand).

Christina and I in our Canada gear with a Japanese player

In addition to being in Napier for the game, we also spent some time touring the city.  My friend and I did a tour of one of the 30 wineries in the area.  The kiwis are well known for their high-end wine and I can definitely understand why.  We also visited the beach, but given that the spring weather in New Zealand is much more alike with the Canadian spring, we didn’t do any swimming.

Outside of the Winery (with vineyard behind me)

After our few days in Napier, we traveled to the town of Taupo.  The entire purpose for this trip was to bungee.  We didn’t do the traditional, head-first bungee jump into the water, rather my friend and I did the tamer and more scenic bungee-swing option.  The ride consists of a 180 degree swing over the very pretty Waikato River Valley.  I loved it!

The Bungee-Swing in Taupo

After Taupo, we travelled to Hobbiton, where some of the Lord of the Rings was filmed. I’m not a gigantic fan of the film, so it wasn’t that exciting for me (especially given the price), however, I could see how LOTR extreme fans would love it. The hobbit holes were cool, but I can’t “legally” post any pictures until the filming of The Hobbit is done and the movies are released.  Until then, you’ll just have to watch the LOTR trilogy to get an idea of the sights in Hobbiton.

Only picture from Hobbiton that I'm "legally" permitted to post.

Following the Hobbiton visit, we traveled to the city of Rotorua.  It’s a very pretty city, however there’s a lot of geothermal activity that takes place throughout the city, which provides a lot of neat views, but the sulphur smell isn’t the most pleasant! The city smelt a bit like rotten eggs.

Rotorua Hot-Spring

Stinky smells aside, we had a great time in Rotorua.  We spent our second day there rafting the Kaituna River. The route we did had the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the 7meter Tutea Falls.  The success rate for rafts clearing the fall without tipping is only 50%.  Our raft lost about half of our boat. And, I was one of the lucky few who ended up tumbling around under the waterfall.  I had a temporary, life-flashing-before-my-eyes type of moment, but ended up surviving. Fortunately.

Christina & I, back two rows from the top, right-hand side, still in the raft...

Christina & I no longer in the raft, but under the waterfall

All in all, the rafting was amazing. The company blended the rafting with a touch of Maori culture. Before we were even allowed to enter the river we had to say a quick prayer to the past Maori peoples buried throughout the river. Essentially we were rafting through an ancient burial ground and the closer we got to the 7m fall, the closer we were to the past superior Maori people. It was pretty neat.

Everyone alive & happy (but far from dry)

After the rafting, we had a Maori Hangi Dinner in the Tamaki Maori Village, 15 minutes outside of Rotorua.  We were greeted by the Maori people with a traditional powhiri (welcome ceremony), where the warriors try to intimidate their guests prior to allowing them to enter the village. The idea is to welcome the visitors, but let them know that if they were there for a fight, they will lose. It was very interesting, and kind of funny to watch, but we were not allowed to laugh out of respect for the culture.

Maori Welcome Ceremony

Inside of the village we learned about some Maori traditions, such as how they tattoo their faces. It’s actually pretty barbaric. They dig quite deeply into the skin and it is not unheard of for people to die during the tattooing.  We also watched some of their traditional dances, such as the Haka. I have a small obsession with the haka.

Then we had dinner. They cook their hangi feast in food ovens in the ground.  Essentially, they bury their food in fire pits. Then leave the food to smoke for about four hours. The meal was pretty good too. It resembled a traditional thanksgiving meal, which was really appreciated since I’m going to be missing the Canadian thanksgiving. Some of my Canadian friends and I will try to replicate it this weekend, but it won’t be the same as Grandma’s traditional turkey.

Dug up dinner

After our time spent in Rotorua, my friends and I headed to the city of Wellington, which was our final stop and where Canada was to play the All Blacks. The rugby game was on the Sunday and we arrived on the Friday.  We filled our pre-rugby game time by visiting some museums, shopping in downtown Wellington and meeting with fellow Canadian fans.

Shopping on Cuba Street in Wellington

On Sunday I spent the day with my few Canadian friends surrounded by thousands of All Black fans. They were pretty sympathetic to the fact that we all knew Canada had next to no chance against the All Blacks. I convinced the All Black fans around me to help cheer on my dream of Canada scoring two tries against New Zealand, which they did! However, the final score was 78 to 15 for New Zealand.

The time Canada was winning against the All Blacks! (for about 2 minutes)

It was still a really great experience seeing Canada play one of the world’s best rugby teams. Especially while in New Zealand. I’ve also been in love with the Haka that the All Blacks perform prior to every game – it’s essentially to intimidate the opposing team – and was so excited to see it live in Wellington! All in all, the game was worth the 7 month wait since our tickets were purchased!

All Blacks perform the Haka

After the game we went out with some of our new Canadian friends to celebrate Canada’s final RWC game. The vibe in the city was amazing. Everyone really lived up the experience.

Kellie & I with some All Blacks Fans

That pretty much sums up my mid-semester break. I’m kind of keeping it low-key for the next little while. I need some time to re-coup before my next Aussie adventure.

Kellie & All Black eightman Kieran Read

Cheers!

Sydney being Sydney

Hey All!

I recently got back from my trip to Sydney with some of my uni mates and it was a amazing! I’ll do my best to share some of the highlights.

Sydney Opera House

On our first day we did a lot of random exploring of the city. We traveled through the Sydney Botanical Gardens and took a million pictures in front of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. There’s this really pretty area near the end of the Harbor Bridge, called the Rocks, which showcases the oldest part of Sydney.  The area is full of neat alleyways and classic stone buildings. It’s pretty incredible.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Plus there was a ton of great restaurants in the Rocks area. On my first night a few of us stopped for drinks and pizza at the Australia Hotel.  We indulged in some prawn covered pizzas and my favourite, salt-water crocodile pizza.  I think I’m really going to miss all of this easy access to crocodile meat when I’m home in North America. I really like it!

Croc. Pizza

Our second day was spent exploring the Blue Mountains National Park, which may have been my highlight of the trip.  The Blue Mountains are located about 2 hours West of Sydney.  The area is covered with thousands of hikes. We did about three.

We traveled down and around one set of falls, the Katoomba Cascades, where we witnessed some amazing views. At one point, we stood near the middle of the falls, where it flattened out, and faced this incredible backdrop of the Blue Mountain skyline.  I couldn’t help but run up and slightly under the falls, they were so pretty! Plus we were kinda hot from all the hiking up and down the mountain.

Katoomba Cascades

Our next big adventure in the Blue Mountains involved a 900 stair climb down to the bottom of the Three Sisters rock formation and then a 900 stair climb back up.  It wasn’t the smartest idea we had that day, but I certainly won’t forget it any time soon! The ‘stairs’ were incredibly narrow and uneven; plus it was really windy in this area. I recommend taking a trail back up from the Three Sisters stair climb, rather than the 900 stair climb up.

Three Sisters Stair Climb

The Three Sisters rock formation is a pretty famous part of the Blue Mountains. There is this legend that the mother of the Three Sisters turned the girls into stone to protect them from would-be male suitors.

Three Sisters formation to my right. (your left)

After spending the day hiking through the mountains, we decided to spend our third day at the beach. Manly beach to be exact. We took a ferry from the Sydney Harbor out to the beach, which provided us with beautiful views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

Watching Sailboats from the Ferry

Later that evening we explored Sydney’s red light district, in the King’s Cross area, which is also where our hostel was located. Needless to say there was a lot of random encounters and interesting locals. I didn’t mind staying in the Kings-Cross area, but I might try somewhere a little less “colourful” next time!

Iconic Coca-Cola Sign in King's Cross

On my fourth day in Sydney, I finally had the chance to try surfing. I went to Bondi Beach for this endeavor. My friend and I had the very intelligent idea of teaching ourselves to surf.  We hired boards for about an hour and paddled around the Bondi surf. Given that we had no clue what we were doing, I think we fared well. However, next time, I’ll pay for a lesson!

Post Bondi Surf Adventure

Finally, the last part of the trip was spent exploring the weekend markets, watching street entertainment and touring the city.  I really recommend Sydney. I’m incredibly happy living in Brisbane, but Sydney was a great city to vacation to.  There’s so much history, a great night life, beaches and lots of national parks to visit.  All things I really enjoy.

Group in front of the Opera House

That’s it from me for now. My mid-semester break started today and I’m off to New Zealand tomorrow to check out some World Rugby games. I’ll be back in about 10 days. I’ll do my best to update the blog while I’m over there, but I make no promises!

GO CANADA!!!

How To Travel Like A Hippie

I call this post “how to travel like a hippie”, inspired by Urbe Secades Gonzalez.

I’d been bugging my uni friend Urbe, about doing a weekend trip, according to her hippie rules, for a few weeks now and last week we finally set out on this adventure. The following is our adventure according to the hippie rules:

Rule #1 – Choose your destination, but don’t plan any itinerary, make it up as you go along.

We decided to travel about 2 hours north to the Sunshine Coast, in particular to Noosa.  It’s a small beach town with a very friendly atmosphere. Once we decided where we were going we could ask around about places to stay and things to do, but we weren’t permitted to look at any pictures. That would have spoiled the discovery of our new surroundings!

Noosa Head's Beach

Rule #2 – Travel with a random group of friends from various backgrounds.

Four of us decided to make the trip to Noosa last weekend: an Englishman, a Scottish Lad, the Crazy Spaniard and one Canuck. It ended up being pretty interesting learning about everyone’s backgrounds, which gave us lots to talk about on our extremely long journey to and from Noosa.

The Englishman, Crazy Spaniard, Scottish Lad, and Canuck

Rule #3 – Take the cheapest transportation possible.

We traveled to Noosa by way of public transit, which meant that the normal 2 hour drive to Noosa was closer to 4 hours with all of the buses, trains and then more buses that we had to take.  However, it was very affordable at about $7 each way.  Plus you meet all kinds of interesting people on the local buses and trains.

One of the 3 buses we road that day.

Rule #4 – Purchase your meals at the grocery store, then picnic on the beach.

For about $8 we were able to cover our costs for breakfast and lunch.  On our first morning, we decided to eat our breakfast on the beach.  We didn’t intend to spend too much time on the Noosa Head’s Beach, but it was so beautiful that we all laid around for several hours simply soaking in the beautiful scenery and warm spring day.  In the afternoon, we finally said goodbye to the Noosa Head’s Beach and hiked through a state park, to a nearly private beach in the middle of the state park (Alexandra Beach).  Here we stopped for lunch and little more lounging

Breakfast on the beach

Rule #5 – Keep your entertainment cheap and easy.

Throughout the weekend we spent most of our time lounging around and swimming at the beaches.  They were incredibly beautiful.  And, despite what the locals say, the water really wasn’t that cold.  I also loved the hike we did along the Pacific Ocean from Noosa Head’s Beach through to Alexandra Beach.  It was incredible to scale the beautiful hillside along the ocean. Hiking along the ocean is something I can’t do back home; so it was a really sweet opportunity to experience such views.

View of Alexandra Beach

Rule #6 – Find the cheapest accommodations possible.

On our final night we decided it was “warm” enough to sleep on the beach. I was a little skeptical because I wasn’t sure if we were even allowed to sleep on the beach, and it still gets relatively cold at night. Despite these apprehensions, we all still really wanted to spend the night under the stars, so we made it happen.

Beach Camp-Out

We found a few small sand dunes along the Sunshine Beach and set up camp in between them for the night. It turns out that 4 layers of clothing and a sleeping bag good to about 5 degrees was ALMOST warm enough for the camp out! All in all, it was an incredible experience. We all woke up at 5 am and watched the sunrise, and then slept in until about 8am when it was warm enough to crawl out of the sleeping bags.

Sunshine Beach Sunrise

Rule #7 – Get to know the locals.

One thing that really stuck out about the Sunshine Coast, and Noosa area in particular, was how friendly the locals were.  Everyone was more than happy to help the four of us navigate our way around.  Whether it be offering us a ride to the bus stop or looking after our backpacks in the local surf club, as we watched a World Rugby Game, the people were super easy-going and accommodating.

On the morning that we woke up on the beach, a man came over and started chating with us.  I was a little nervous that he was going to give us trouble for sleeping on the beach, but instead, he simply encouraged our travels, wished us well and told us to keep “living the dream.”

My weekend with Urbe was definitely my best weekend in Oz to date. I highly recommend travelling according to Urbe’s hippie standards!

As a final, and unrelated note, I thought I’d quickly mention my new job.  Unfortunately, cheap hippie trips do still cost money, so I decided I’d get a job to help out with my bills for a little while.  As part of my visa requirements I’m allowed to work up to 20 hours a week, which is more than enough when you’re trying to travel and keep up with school!

Hard working polling station clerks.

Over the last two weeks, the Uni has been holding their student elections and I’ve gotten a job as a polling station clerk, as well as an official counter of these votes.  I’m not gonna lie, it hasn’t been the most interesting job, but like most jobs in Australia, it pays pretty well.  The minimum wage for this position was is just over $20 an hour. Needless to say throughout my last two weeks of working for the school elections, I’ve made enough to cover 4 more hippie adventures!

Next stop: Sydney, Australia!

RIVERFIRE!!!

This post needs no other name than Riverfire! 

When I first found out that I was to be going on exchange to Brisbane, Australia, I immediately started researching the city and area.  I quickly found all these pictures of amazing fireworks displays and was incredibly happy to discover that I would be living here during this fireworks event.  This event is known as Riverfire.  It marks the beginning of a cultural festival here in Brisbane (also known as Brisbane Festival).

The Festival runs for about three weeks, and throughout these weeks there’s various shows, art displays and concerts.  Much these acts are free to the public as well.  So far, my obvious favourite is Riverfire.

Group at Riverfire

This Saturday afternoon, my friends and I headed to downtown Brisbane and found ourselves a perfect spot to watch the fireworks, right in front of the Brisbane River.  The Majority of the fireworks were lit off over the river, with a fair amount also being lit off of several downtown skyscrapers.

It’s funny because my friend and ended up saving seats for our group for over two hours, so by the time the fireworks started we were getting really irritable. However, as soon as the first few were lit off, our moods completely changed and we couldn’t have been happier.

Riverfire with Southbank in the background

You know those moments in life where there’s no where else in the world you rather be, but right where you are? (That’s probably a quote from a song, I’m sorry for being incredibly cheesy). However, I felt so lucky to be sitting by the Brisbane River, on the other side of the planet, surrounded by great friends, and seeing this beautiful fireworks display going off all around me.

Riverfire was beyond my expectations. It was non-stop for over 20 minutes! It rained fireworks from the river! The display was perfectly timed to some of my favourite songs! I completely understand why over 500,000 people travel to the downtown every year to watch the fireworks.

I could go on and on, but I think I made my point. In the meantime, I’ve posted a video of the finale onto Youtube. I’ve also attached the link to it. Hopefully it will give you a better idea of why I’m so crazy for riverfire.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WcQ61GTPco

Cheers!

A Little Publicity for the Program

Last Tuesday I received an email from a producer from the Canadian Broadcasting  Corporation (CBC). He worked for the CBC radio show, Ontario Morning.  Apparently, he saw my blog, which was posted on my university’s website and to my surprise, he found it so intriguing that he asked if I would be interested in doing a live interview on Thursday morning. I was so excited I immediately said “YES!”. Of course, afterwards, I freaked out for several hours realizing that I would be speaking LIVE across Southwestern Ontario.

Most of my friends and family back home can attest to the fact that, while I don’t mind public speaking, I OFTEN, say stupid, foot-in-the-mouth type things, without thinking. Naturally, I was pretty nervous that I would say something of that sort.

In order to prevent such a terrifying outcome, I spent about 4 hours studying for the interview; which I realize now is a little nutty given the fact that I knew the interview would only be about 6 minutes long.  At any rate, the producer was very interested in hearing about the differences I’ve found between my studies here and back home. I did my best to portray my personal feelings about these differences and overall, I really enjoyed the experience of being on the radio back home.

If someone had told me before I left for Australia, that I’d be on the CBC two months into this adventure, I would have told them they were crazy.  I’ve been incredibly lucky during my time here. I’ve had some amazing opportunities land in my lap and I genuinely appreciate all of these little surprises. The Best part is, I’m not even half way through this journey, so there’s lots of time for more unexpected and exciting adventures!

If your interested in hearing the interview, check it out at:

http://www.cbc.ca/ontariomorning/episodes/2011/09/01/aussie-blogger/

This is me signing off for now!

“How You Going?”

It’s been a little while since I’ve done an update on my adventures. It’s partially because I’ve been pretty busy with school, but mostly because blogging about schoolwork isn’t all that interesting.

I will say though, there are few differences between the Aussie and Canadian school systems that I do find quite interesting.  Firstly, professors in Oz are much less formal.  I would never refer to a professor here by their title or last name.  I’ve actually had professors correct me and specifically tell me to call them by their first name. Whereas in Canada, particularly during my undergrad, I rarely referred to any professors by their first name.

I also have one professor, in particular, who is committed to ensuring that our class remains as informal as possible.  On my frist day of class he told me that were to act “more like a family, than as classmates”.  This professor is also somewhat obsessed with the idea of having a student make and bring a fresh-baked cake to each and every class. It was my turn last week to bring said cake.

Since I don’t have access to an oven in my residence I had to be pretty creative.  I decided to make Rice Krispie Squares.  Apparently, they’re not really that well-known here.  It’s also funny because you’d think that it’d be easy to find the ingredients for Rice Krispies, given that there’s so few  of them, however there are so many little differences here, it made my baking task challenging.

Rice Krispie Ingredients

First of all, the Aussies don’t exactly have Rice Krispies – They have “Rice Bubbles”.  Second, I looked everywhere for white marshmallows, but there are none.  I had to settle for these odd pink and white ones.  Since I wasn’t confident in how the pink marshmallows would taste in my Krispies, I decided to add melted Snicker Bars.  At the end of the day, I’m pretty confident I was successful in my very random school assignment.

Rice Krispies

I’ve found it very interesting how similar, yet different things are here, as opposed to back home. I’m still trying to wrap my head around certain Aussie sayings.  For example, generally when you say “hi” to any Australian, their immediate response is “how you going?” aka “how are you?” – I never know what to say in response! Should I say “I’m going by bus” or do I respond with “I’m well, thank-you”?

Some of the other interesting sayings our “bogans” aka. rednecks, or “thongs” aka flipflops, or “lollies” aka. candy. I’ve also determined, through conversations with other exchange students, that in every Western country other than Canada, your 21st Birthday is a huge deal.  Even though in every Western country other than America, nothing significant actually happens on your 21st Birthday.

Another thing, particularly unique to Brisbane, is the wild turkeys.  First, I found them to be quite annoying, because they’re everywhere, and they don’t seem to care about getting out of your way as you try to pass them.  Now, I’ve discovered that at this time of year the turkeys start building huge piles of dirt for their nests.  When I say huge, I mean about 5 feet wide by 3 feet high. It’s pretty impressive that such a small animal can kick around enough dirt to make such a huge pile.

Turkey Mound (Nest)

It’s also annoying because the turkeys will kick all this dirt from one garden, onto a footpath, then into the next garden where their pile is.  I was incredibly confused the other day as I walked to class and had to scale this two foot pile of dirt right in the middle of a footpath! Finally, the worst part about these turkeys – I’ve been told they taste horrible.  They’re everywhere and you can’t even eat them!

Wild Brush Turkey

Wild Turkeys aside, life in Brissie has been going pretty well.  I had a great time last week at my residential college’s ball.  The hall served amazing food – with delicious, edible turkey – and it was fun to get dressed up for a night. After, spending so much time in school this past week, I’m looking forward to getting out and about this upcoming week!

Cheers!

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