Friday, February 27, 2009

Just Bought: A (cheap!) subscription to The Sydney Morning Herald

OK folks here it is, the revelation of a lifetime... I do not, I repeat, DO NOT have a television! For the first time EVER, I am not living in a place with a TV! A travesty I know, however there's not much I can do at the moment. Overall not having a television is a minor inconvenience; still, I am of the opinion that being up to date on current public events and news, especially in the economic, political and legal spheres is, in fact, essential to my understanding of and ability to contextualize the academic material we are covering in class. Thus I decided to take advantage of a very inexpensive offer on hand at The University of Sydney "O-Week" event. This three-day event is basically for first year and new students to learn about the different clubs, societies and athletic teams on campus. In addition to concerts and club/ society information booths the event includes a few select companies that cater to student needs and interests. The Sydney Morning Herald was one such company and they had masses of "lollies" (candy) on offer to tempt us over to their booth. Usually I'm pretty good at getting the candy while eschewing the sales pitch but this deal was too good to pass up. In light of my lack of a TV, or radio reception for that matter, I decided that this was the best chance I was going to get to have easy access to the latest news on a daily basis. (I know, there's always the Internet but it's not quite the same...) 

On a side note, as I was showing off my first issue to my table of friends (and one guy from another class) at this Friday's Afternoon Happy Hour with the Profs event, the new guy indicated that he was actually IN the paper. Sure enough, there was an article in the arts section reviewing a recent poetry event in which he was a performer. As it turned out, I was quite surprised that he would direct us to this particular article as the content of which included his being described as " without a doubt the strangest person [the author] had ever met" and "...he's either the real article or Charles Manson..." This I thought, was an unusual approach to introducing oneself to a new group of people.

In any case I think he was pleased that someone other than himself had brought up the topic of the Sydney Morning Herald. What are the odds that on the first and only day that I even make mention of a newspaper, let alone have one on my person, I would be sitting next to someone actually written about in the paper?!  Uncanny! 
My last thought on this matter is, while I really enjoy reading newspaper articles, I often find that I gravitate more towards the "lighter" sections such as arts, travel or life; not especially useful to my (hopefully) expanding legal intellect. Ergo, I am inspired to make an especially concerted effort to read and at least try to understand the Financial and Legal sections of the paper so that I might not only be more aware of local and international news in these areas, but also to further develop my enjoyment of, interest in, and ability to comprehend the until now, intimidating and thus unexplored regions of the newspaper. Go me! 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Merrily We Roll Along...

I'm in awe of one of my new housemates... Anna is so organized and she always looks 100% put together, even at 8 in the morning! In the mornings I am often treated to sharing one of her scrumptious fresh, homemade "juices" concocted from a few fresh fruits and veggies. Put through a grinding machine, voila! we have fresh juice! It's noisy but the result is worth it... the yummy, and healthy juice gives me a much needed vitamin and energy boost for the long hours in class and studying at the library.
Our latest housemate bonding moment was a project- making homemade rice paper rolls of the variety one can order at a Vietnamese restaurant. It was super easy and the result was a bunch of healthy, tasty, easily transportable rolls which I gobbled up for lunch the next day. Here's the technique. Thanks Anna!

Thinly slice a variety of veggies. We used red cabbage, carrots, red pepper, onion, and avocado.
Chop some fresh mint
Quickly dip a piece of rice paper in water
place a few slices of each veggie in the center of the paper.
Roll, folding up the ends.
Serve with Sweet Chili sauce

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ups and Downs of my First Week of Law School!

First day of school! I was a tad on the nervous side (my stomach was in knots the whole day!) but tried to put on a brave face. I arrived at the downtown Sydney Law Faculty (having walked passed the Opera House on the way!) a bit on the frazzled side, but nevertheless tried to glide into the room packed full of undergraduates exuding an air of effortless calm and sophistication... (after helping myself to the breakfast spread in the lobby of of course!) Oh ya, I wasn't late! (for those that know me well that's a pretty monumental achievement.) In fact I wasn't late for anything the whole week! 

We were greeted with the usual welcome type messages and then after a short intermission, sent off to our first small group seminar. Yikes! This was the nerve wracking part as we were told right off the bat that participation will be graded. Sounds easy? Not so much- it has to be the right KIND of participation. An uninformed or worse, irrelevant comment is worse than saying nothing at all. A pretty tall order for a bunch of green newbies who don't even know what a ratio is yet! Anyhoo I survived the day, speaking once during the seminar, face bright red the whole time, and even met a couple of friends. 

Our first lecture on precedent. Pretty interesting and the best part? Typing the notes on my new Macbook laptop! I had no idea I could type as fast as someone talks and unlike the hand and wrist cramps writing furiously in lectures used to give me, I was able to type everything without so much as a finger twinge! We had a full day including two, two hour seminars in addition to the lecture. It is very very important to be prepared for the seminars. This requires hours and hours of reading and digesting the information enough to be able to participate meaningfully in the discussions. 

Wednesday and Thursday
Another few seminars and a lecture on statutory interpretation. Even though it's only the first week I can already tell that law is a MUCH better fit for me than teaching ever was. Each case we look at is like a puzzle- even though there are tricky parts and some things take a bit longer to absorb than the latest chicklit novel, it's really interesting to work through the problems and satisfying to come up with the right answer. I am also really enjoying the company of my classmates. They are bright, funny and interesting and help me stay on track with the readings! 

A rather long day- again two, two hour seminars and then a two hour screening of a documentary film on the Mabo case, a landmark Australian Aboriginal land rights case. After such a long day, not to mention week, some of my classmates and I retired to a gorgeous downtown bar/ restaurant. Although we were the only students amidst the corporate crowd we still fit in pretty well as people here generally dress much more nicely and I've tried to follow suit (no pun intended...) We kicked back for a beverage and I shared a scrumptious made-to- order tomato and chorzio pizza. The prices were good too which was a delightful surprise in light of my experience with prices in Sydney thus far. 

Overall a smashing first week!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rainy Sunday Surprise!

Attended: Sydney Opera House Concert to raise money for victims of the Victoria bushfires. 
This past Sunday morning I woke up early to attend a 6am concert performed by 100 members of the Sydney Philharmonic Choir in support of the bushfire relief effort. I was more than happy to donate some money to the fundraiser and really enjoyed the concert as well. 

The sight of the choir arranged on the steps of the opera house was mesmerizing, eclipsed only by the spectacular backdrop of the dawn sky behind the sails of the opera house roof, and the equally awe-inspiring grandeur of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The lone soloist standing atop the steps, tails of his contrasting white suit fluttering in the breeze stole the show with his haunting, perfectly-in-tune voice. An invisible cello soloist provided the only instrument to the otherwise acapella performance. I'm not sure why he was situated under the stairs, out of general sight, but he added a nice layer of depth to a fabulously cohesive performance. The musical selections were, for the most part, somber; however, the hour long set concluded with an up-beat melody- an appropriately symbolic choice; signifying hope and determination to move forward from unbelievable catastrophe. 

To watch another short video clip of the concert click here.

An unexpected bonus to the already enjoyable concert was bumping into my friend Christophe. (What are the odds that in a city of 4 million, I would chance upon one of the 3 or 4 people I know in Sydney?!) He was on his way to breakfast after the concert with 3 of the choir members, (one of whom is a work colleague,) and they kindly invited me to join in! We made the short walk to the historical Rocks District of Sydney, just next to the ferry harbour, and I was treated to some tidbits of local knowledge along the way.  Particularly, the implications of the unfortunate importation of the now very unwelcome Indian Minor bird and some interesting convict history. It amazes me that 1) so much of Sydney's vast harbourfront area was built by convict labour and 2) that the stonework and masonry is still in such good condition. I wish I'd remembered my camera to take a picture of (amongst other things,) the huge pulleys that still adorn the fronts of the former shipping warehouses. We ducked into a building with particularly nice stonework and settled into our table at the Rock Pancake House. Mindful of my pennies I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu which unbelievably was only $6.95- a short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The two sizable slabs came topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dusting of icing sugar and were de-lish! My only complaint would be that the claim of "maple syrup" was resolutely false! The sickly table syrup almost got the better of me but, as I used it only sparingly, didn't take too much away from an otherwise yummy breakie! (that means breakfast in Aussie speak)
What an unexpectedly wonderful way to start a rainy day. I love the little things in life like that. Helps to keep a smile on my face during those inevitable difficult or stressful times that occur in the early stages of a big life change, (such as oh, pulling up anchor and moving across the planet.) 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day to you all. This year I bought myself a Valentine's Day present. A house to live in. Thus today is...Moving Day!

Never a dull moment around here and this week has been pretty par for the course. On Wednesday my friend Christophe very generously offered to assist me in retrieving a bed that I'd purchased second hand from some people out in Maroubra Beach (a quaint beach suburb about 40 minutes away by car, 1.5 hours by bus which I, unfortunately, found out the hard way.) Anywho, Christophe in his zippy new (to him) Hyundi hatchback whisked me off to the beach whereupon we picked up the used Ikea mattress and bed frame. Just as I was about to breath a huge sigh of relief that the whole thing fit in the back of the car we heard a tow-curling, cringe inducing, "CRRAACCKK"... almost too afraid to look, I surveyed the damage. BOTH legs of the headboard had just snapped off! So much for my $250 "investment" (I had thought I would be able to sell it when I leave and at least get my money back.) AHHHHH! Nevertheless we brought it back to my new house and luckily, the girl who is moving out offered to help me with trying to fix the bed. Her dad is quite good with tools and fixing things etc. so they've taken the headboard to try to repair it, which I really really appreciate. For what it's worth I've learned my lesson about buying second hand Ikea furniture.

 I guess things could be worse. I could be in Victoria where bushfires have been raging for a week. Whole towns there are living in tent cities, trying to come to terms with not only the loss of their houses and possessions, but even their family and friends. The devastation has affected not just the people of the area, but hundreds of animals too. The news coverage has been very thorough, mixing horrific footage of incinerated towns with heartwarming stories of bravery and selflessness.
This is a now famous picture of Sam the koala, being given water after a firefighter discovered him, injured, and thirsty. There have been so many stories of heroism amidst the devastation and I think it's really important that people everywhere know about this story. I know Australia doesn't get much press coverage in Canada but maybe if you are reading this and can spare a few dollars to the relief fund, you will donate some money

I know I will be. 
The fundraising effort here has grown to over $50 million and it's really nice to see a whole country pulling together to help these people who have lost everything.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top 10 Best and Worst so far...

10. The friendly people. Even strangers are always willing and eager to lend a hand. I've been given countless directions by smiling strangers, offered rides places by complete strangers (I know what you're thinking but really the nice lady offered me a ride after I asked her for directions!) and eaten the free (well donation only) food given out by the Hare Krishna Food for Life Truck. 
9. The variety of cultural/ ethnic foods. Jam packed together in every neighbourhood is a smorgasbord of Italian, Portuguese, Brazilian, French, Australian and every type of Asian food all sharing the same street! It really is a wonderful break from the cookie cutter fast food joints that proliferate at home. Even the smattering of McDonald's restaurants look out of place amidst the glorious bounty of international offerings here in Sydney. 
8. Gus, my consummate host who rescued me from what was about to be two weeks at a hostel. Ugh!
7. The wonderful fruit here... overflowing piles of grapes, bananas, mangoes and strange looking fruits that I've rarely seen before (starfruit?)
6. Sunshine. So much of it (well until two days ago)
5. You can order beer and wine at movie theaters. Wow!
4. The beaches. There are so many and they are GORGEOUS!
3. Aussie Barbies (BBQs)
2. Wine seems to be the only thing that is less expensive than at home.

10. Everything is so expensive. Seriously not exaggerating on this one. About $1000 a month for a ROOM in a house? Seriously? yes. Train tickets range from $3.20-$8.00 depending on the distance and that's just for a local, one way trip within Sydney. 2L (the largest quantity you can buy) of milk is $5. 
9. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Ever.
8. Having to take public transportation. Hot, smelly, crowded, late and in the case of the buses VERY slow.
7. Beer does not come in pints (despite this, it still costs the same as a Canadian pint). A "Schooner" is the size of a happy meal softdrink and lasts about as long as it takes for a cat to get pregnant. 
6. High density of deadly animals. Hard to get a good night's rest knowing hundreds of angry plants and animals could be plotting my death at any time. So far I've only seen a handful of roaches and a jellyfish, but still. A navy diver did lose his hand and most of his thigh in Sydney Harbour yesterday. Bet that shark was pretty full after that juicy meal. 
5. Lights at some crossings take FOREVER to change
4. People laughing at the way I say out and house. 
3. Crime and dodgy people everywhere. There's been a rash of ATM bombings all over the city recently and last week there was a biker gang hangout bombing that even though it was about half a km away from where I'm staying, still brought down plaster and made a light fall out of the ceiling. 
2. No weekly US gossip magazines. Am seriously missing my US weekly etc. What will I do not knowing what happens next to Brangelina?!
And my number one top thing driving me crazy?

1. There are no street signs anywhere in this whole $^%&$ing city! I am not lying. On numerous occasions I have been attempting to follow my google map directions whilst hauling a#$ on FOOT and come to a large 4 lane intersection with streets branching off in all directions (sydney is more like a spider web than a grid; very difficult to navigate) and have not seen even ONE stinking street sign. It is SO frustrating and infuriating. Not only that but sometimes roads are called one name by some people and another name by others. Curses!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Bailey!

It's my puppy Bailey's 2nd birthday today and if I were home I would be having a birthday party for her just like last year! I know I know- it's crazy to have a birthday party for a dog, but why not? My friends and I use every other excuse in the book to throw a rager! Not to mention Martha Stewart who has no qualms about throwing a New Year's party for her cats. 

Anyway I thought I'd dedicate today's post to the little birthday-pup! I love you and I miss you Bailey!

Bailey's homecoming...

Bailey, 8 weeks, trying out the new digs aka her crate for the first time...

I want my mommy! Bailey's not too impressed at my first attempt to make her dinner.

Bailey at about 10 wks old. Getting acquainted with the laundry basket. Awwww...
Cuddle time with me!

Bailey is quite the little adventurer too!

Bailey at about 5 months old. Her first sailing trip!

Taking a dip up north with her buddy Russel. 

Not only does she love to get out and about, but is the life of the party too...
Silly face. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

House Hunting in Sydney

I've only been here a week but it seems a lot longer than that. Every day has been an adventure of some sort, mostly, but not always, of the good variety. My numero uno priority was to find a place to live, which despite all indications to the contrary, I have actually managed to do! Let me explain. I don't have much to compare to by way of experience finding shared accommodation but from what I have heard, and experienced in the last week, Sydney is one of THE hardest places to find decent shared housing. The first place I "rang up" (phoned) explained that they'd had over 20 people express interest in the place but invited me for an "interview" anyway. I really, really liked the room: large, big window, wall to wall built-in closet, own bathroom. I liked the other people in the house too aka we got "on" (along) well, so that was my number 1 choice. However, as there was so much competition I wasn't certain of my chances so off I went to explore some more options. Next was a rickety, run-down old two-story with paint peeling off the concrete walls and only one indoor bathroom to share between six people. There was another hole, I mean "bathroom" accessible by going through the kitchen, out the back door and around to the side of the house. No thank you! Can you imagine having to dart through the backyard and kitchen in a towel, especially in winter? Jeez Loueez. The kitchen was also a mess which wouldn't ordinarily bother me so much but kitchen mess in Sydney= critters of the MASSIVE COCKROACH variety. Seriously people, they are everywhere. I've killed two all by myself so far. My family will be delighted to know that I am now a kitchen-cleaning freak, obsessed with wiping counters! 
As the market here is so competitive I was actually psyching myself up to live in that dump when I visited my next house- a gorgeous flat right next to the university and central station. It had everything including cable tv, furniture, and even a pilates machine but my "roomie" would have been a 45 yr old Persian man. Although he seemed nice, I just wasn't sure how comfortable the situation would have been for me. Next I looked at this cute little hole-in-the-wall house in a quiet neighbourhood about 5km from the uni. It was actually quite large inside and had a large rambling backyard, quite unusual for Sydney. The occupants were lovely too. Two working professional guys in their 20's and two cute kitties! Not only was I delighted with the wine and cheese platter they offered me during the interview, but also with how polite and pleasant the guys were. The house was cozy and comfortable and I added it to my list of top choices.
Lastly, after a rather harrowing late-night bus ride to close to the outskirts of the city I visited a very nice flat on a main road atop a store. It was big, bright and comfortable and I enjoyed the company of the Aussie gal and Kiwi guy that lived there. Alas, the room wasn't available until the end of February and it was so far away from uni I'd spend over two hours a day commuting. Not the best situation. 
Luckily, after a second interview at the first house,  I got offers from my top two choices. It was a really tough decision because I enjoyed the company of both sets of housemates and as the prices for both places were the same, it came down to location. The first house is within walking distance to the uni and so I chose that one. I am delighted to be moving next weekend into a clean, modern, comfortable house with my 3 new housemates! One is a lovely girl from New Zealand and the other two are a German couple on a working holiday in Australia. What luck to find such a good house on my first try! I am glad to have seen so many places though to really appreciate what I ended up with. Now all I need to do is track down a bed. Will post some pictures soon!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Freshwater Beach Trip

A wonderful weekend in Sydney just past and I am delighted to report that I took full advantage of the sunshine! A friend Chris, whom I met during my last trip to Australia, picked me up and whisked me off to Freshwater beach. A glorious display of sun, sand, surf and sexy bods greeted us as we joined up with Chris's international group of mates. (I have some serious work in the gym to do if I'm going to even come close to looking like the girls here.) Although it was 3pm by the time we found parking, the sun was still hot hot hot and I enjoyed basking in it while catching up with my old friend and meeting some of his crowd. Although I consider myself a strong swimmer, the waves here are something else but luckily they were a manageable 1-2 meters- perfect for bodyboarding! This is where you catch a wave while lying down on a small foam board and surf down the wave lying on your stomach. It's really fun and Chris and I enjoyed racing each other (while handily avoiding running over myriad other swimmers, surfers and bodyboarders!)

After the beach we retired to the comfort of a friend's beachside flat for a good ol Aussie barbie (barbecue.) The food was fantastic! Grilled lamb, sausages and chicken and the most utterly delicious feta salad made with the host's French grandmother's secret vinaigrette recipe. We chowed down while watching the Australian Open men's final. What an exciting game! 

I'm currently hard at work finding a permanent residence so I'll keep all you keen readers up to date on that adventure!

Ciao for now.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lucky lucky me!

It's day 4 of my new life in Sydney Australia and so far things couldn't be working out better. I've had some amazing luck so far, starting off with meeting my Australian hostess with the mostess-Gus! (short for Augusta) A mutual friend put us in touch the day before I left and Gus was so kind to offer to host me for my first few days in Australia. Oddly enough she was dropping someone off at the Sydney airport the morning of my arrival so all she had to do was expertly pick me out of a crowd (which she did, as the "girl who had enough luggage to look like she was moving to a new country" lol ) and whisk me back to her place. I'm staying in her fantastic flat in the heart of little Portugal and a short walk from little Italy. I have my own room and a very comfortable bed which has been a godsend to help me get over the jet-lag. Sydney is 16 hours ahead of Oakville so it's been quite the adjustment to get on the time schedule here. 

I kicked off my trip with a walk around Circular Quay and was blown away with the size of this absolutely enormous cruise ship moored at circular quay. I felt like I was in Honey I Shrunk the Kids standing next to that enormous ship.

The Opera house of course, was spectacular, it's white sails shimmering in the midday sun.

On a whim I decided to take a ferry trip to Manly Beach and was pleasantly surprised at the nice little beach town that leads to the gorgeous expanse of open ocean. Where's a surfboard when you need one!? Alas I didn't even have a bathing suit with me so I satisfied my urge to plunge myself into the warm ocean with an ankle-deep beach walk. 

Thank goodness for the instructions written on the curb sides no doubt for hapless north Americans such as myself who would otherwise join the ranks of the Darwin Awards. Running over too many tourists would be bad for business I guess. 

For every rose there is a thorn and I am missing my friends, family and puppy.