Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Little Things

Journalism is all about the details. An amateur piece is filled with description but doesn't say anything. A good piece shows the big picture but misses subtle elements that stir readers’ emotions. A great piece includes meaningful details so people both learn and feel something when they read it.

I try to notice details all the time. Anyone who has walked with me knows I’ll stop several times to say, “Look at this,” “Feel this,” or “Hey, what’s in here?”

I’m always looking up and down and around because I know there’s more going on than what’s in front of me.

These are just a few of the tiny things I noticed on bushwalks. In the city it might be architecture or people that make me stop and look. A lot of times it’s a pastry display.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Love and Sydney

Someone asked me the other day what my favorite thing about Australia was. He prefaced his question with an apology because he was sure everyone had asked me already. Curiously — and thankfully — no one had. I’ve always been terrible at naming favorites. It’s so limiting.

You know when you love someone, there’s not just one thing you love about them. You love everything about them...And everything about them makes you love them more. I tried to think of what I loved about Sydney, but I couldn't pin it down.

I did fall in love while I was in Australia. Everyone was convinced I’d meet an Aussie boy and never want to come home. It turned out the boy part wasn’t necessary. I fell in love with the city.

I thought I’d travel the country more — and I’d still love to — but there was so much to Sydney and its surrounding suburbs that I didn’t want to miss. There are so many neighborhoods to explore, parks to enjoy, restaurants to try, markets to rummage, and views to admire. The beaches are beautiful. The city is so clean (which is remarkable because I could never find a trashcan when I needed one).

But I could list characteristics or even specific spots that I loved, and it still wouldn’t tell the whole story. Because love is never just about the object, is it? Love is about the way we feel. I’ve always thought we love people in terms of how much they make us love ourselves. I suppose the same is true for cities.

I liked the person Sydney brought out of me. I was positive; I was adventurous. Silly little things wouldn’t bother me, and yet, silly little things could also make me really happy. I felt mature and independent, but always let the little kid in me play. Most of the time I was there, I felt in balance. I met some great friends and had incredible times.

My favorite thing about Australia was that it inspired me to seize every day I had there, and I was rarely disappointed with what I found.

Friday, July 25, 2008

One Thing

There is really only one thing I wish I’d done that I didn’t while I was in Sydney: go on a boat.

Oh sure, I rode some ferries across the harbour, but I’m talking personal sailboat style. Every time I saw them out on the water, I imagined making friends with the owner and being invited aboard. It’s the type of thing that would have turned into what my friends would call a Brittany Story. (See: How I met Jane)

I even heard that on Sunday mornings at Rushcutters Bay you can often find people who will bring you along. They say it’s easier to get picked if you have sailing experience, but you’ve gotta learn somehow, right? I was convinced someone would let me on their boat.

Unfortunately, once I learned about Rushcutters, the weather got cooler and school got busier. We just never found a Sunday to wake up early enough and spend the day out there. Still, every time I saw a boat, I told my friends, “I bet they would take us on their boat.”

Next time...

Good Ol' Paddy's

The Paddy’s Market is the place for cheap anything. Souvenirs, sunglasses, electronics, knockoffs, plants, cosmetics, lingerie, stuffed animals, hardware, jewelry...It’s the place to go for any stupid little thing you need but don’t want to pay much money for. And don’t care whether it breaks the second time you use it.

My favorite reason to go to Paddy’s was the produce. Being the center of Haymarket, which is like Chinatown, Paddy’s is mostly run and frequented by Asian-Australians. The place is a bustle of bodies and shouting, with fruit and cash being exchanged at a dizzying pace. You will get bumped into and not apologized to.

But with a level head and a little practice, you can make Paddy’s work for you. I loved that no matter what I bought, I rarely had to pull out a bill. It’s easy to lose track of how much you spend when you’re paying with coins at each stand, but it never adds up to very much. Usually I was only buying ingredients for one night’s meal so the amounts I needed were so small that sometimes they wouldn’t even charge me.

My most expensive single purchase at Paddy’s came when I was buying for a big party fiesta: 21 limes for $7 (which is just slightly less in U.S. dollars).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to the Beginning

When I was abroad, the woman in charge of our house put me in contact with an American girl who’d be coming next semester through the same program I did. Now she’s in Oz, discovering Sydney and meeting all my friends from the house, and I have to say, I’m jealous.

Anyway, I thought I’d post these shots from my first evening in Australia during my study abroad orientation on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria. I remember being baffled that Melbourne’s summer was colder than the 80-degree winter days I’d just had in LA.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Day Public Transport Didn’t Want to Happen

I knew I wanted to go horseback riding while I was in Oz. First I wanted to go to Glenworth Valley, which looked beautiful from the site, but my friends and I had no way to get there. Then I found Otford Farm, which we could get to by train in just over an hour. Perfect. We booked a two-hour ride through the forest to a waterfall and were ready to go. Oh so ready. Shoes, jacket, sandwiches, camera. Had the train schedule, left the house early. We get to Redfern Station only to find a two-hour-plus delay because of freight on the line. We had to move the trip to the following day.

That night I looked up the schedule to establish our new plan. What do I learn? A car crashed onto the line about five hours after the freight situation! Trains stopped running south. I was pretty distraught, but luckily when I woke up that morning I found the replacement bus schedule that wasn’t so horribly longer than the train would have been. We packed fresh sandwiches and made the best of it.

Otford Farm was really nice, though I wish we had a different guide. She was probably 18, which made for an awkward dynamic with all of us being older but having her in control. The girl wasn’t especially helpful either. She didn't give us a real overview of what to do and how to handle the horse. I am a pretty experienced rider, but my friends weren't. And I’d hoped for someone who’d talk about the area and keep things interesting. It was a really nice day and great surroundings, but two hours was a long while to be mostly quiet. Also, it had been a wet week so the trails were terribly muddy and the horses went extra slow. We had a few chances to canter, but we mostly trudged along.

We did get a nice view of the rainforest and ocean in the distance.

Plus the promised waterfall.

There are a few things I would have changed, but it was overall a good day, and I’m happy it happened at all after everything we went through.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And I thought the Aussie bills looked like Monopoly money...

Sometime between when I left for Australia and came home, they went and changed the five-dollar bill on me. I got one as change the other day and honestly thought they gave me play money.

This denomination of U.S. currency is brought to you by the number 5 and the color purple! Mwahahahahahaa!

I'm convinced the mint will make this the next edition...

North to South

I’ve posted this photo from the North Head before, but it’s one of my favorite views so it’s worth another showing, especially so it can be compared to this shot from the South Head:

I took this from The Gap at Watson’s Bay looking out at the spot at Manly where I took the first one a month earlier. The Heads mark the entrance from the ocean into the harbour. (A map for perspective.) There’s also a Middle Head at Balmoral, which I realized I also have a photo of.

I didn’t go on the Middle Head, but you can see it here from Awaba Street. To the left is North Head.

Thrilling, I know. I guess the point of this is just to show different angles of Sydney. During my time there I saw so much, and now I'm going back and really recognizing how much ground I covered...sometimes not even on purpose.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Being Back in LA

I can’t say they didn’t warn me. At the Sydney Uni international student orientation, they graphed the emotional sine function we’d experience during our time abroad (sad to leave home, excited to be somewhere new, frustrated with cultural differences, content with your new home, sad to leave all the friends you made, etc).

I’m happy to see my family and everyone here, even though my sister and most of my friends aren’t in LA this summer. A lot of the time though, I miss being abroad. I had great friends and loved Sydney. More than anything, I miss the thrill of seeing and doing something new everyday. Home, I have to say, feels especially dull after that.

There’s a lot to love about LA. The weather is great, it’s got a beach, lots of life. My favorite thing is the variety — and I say this about Sydney too — it can be whatever you want it to be: posh, urban, bohemian, rugged, lively, serene, a party, a home...With all the cultures, different neighborhoods, and varied landscape, you can feel somewhere different every day, or multiple times in one day. Any kind of people, food, scenery or experience you’re looking for, you can have it. I respect LA a lot for that.

But a few things bother me. I hate that a car is a prerequisite for most things here (especially since I don’t have my own). I can’t stand the traffic I submit myself to when I do drive. I like a city where I can walk and feel free.

I wish we didn’t have that heavy layer of smog. The city can be picturesque — when you can see it. And I’m tired of the attitude from people living the in vacuum Los Angeles can be.

Maybe it’s easier to say these things because it’s where I grew up. The better you know someone, the more flaws you notice. On the other hand, I probably wore rose-colored glasses the whole time in Sydney. Still, for me everywhere else seems so new and exciting. Home can feel so suffocating, can’t it?

I love LA when I’m doing something different, when I discover something I didn’t know about it. After so much exploring in Sydney, you think I’d want to approach Los Angeles the same way. I do, but it has been hard to find the same motivation. I don’t have my study abroad cohorts, ready to do whatever random thing I find to do, not to mention walk however many miles it requires. Also, like I said, I don’t have my own car here, and public transportation isn’t convenient. From my house it’s a 25-minute walk to the nearest bus stop, which only two bus routes pass.

So it’s tough sometimes for things to be so familiar, plus not being surrounded by my 30 housemates all the time. It’s quiet and I'm rather listless. Is it weird I think I'll feel better when I go back to school in Missouri?

(The top photo is from a while ago. You can see Catalina Island under the haze. But since I’ve been home I’ve barely been able to see the city, let alone the ocean, because of all the brushfires.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Long Way to Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay is a great spot in Sydney. Though I’d say it’s a Level 3 tourist zone (beyond Centerpoint Tower and the Opera House, but still in the guide book), it’s relatively peaceful and had a cozy feel to it, at least on the day we went. Imagine a lazy Sunday in the park and by the water. You can take a really quick ferry from Circular Quay, or you could do the almost 8km scenic route.

My mom, two housemates and I train-and-bussed it over to Rose Bay. I had a vague idea of where we needed to go and figured the walk would be self-explanatory from there. We randomly hopped off the bus at the above spot on New South Head Road. We walked through residential streets until we came to the historic Strickland House. Wandering the public grounds lead us to the water and the Hermitage Foreshore path. Perfect.

There we walked across the rocks and collected colorful bits of beach glass, admiring the gorgeous day that developed out of a drizzly morning. The trail followed the shore, but turned out to be more of a bushwalk than I’d expected. Nothing too strenuous, just more dirt and vegetation than the Bondi-Coogee walk.

Soon we reached Nielsen Park, a stunning family beach with crystal clear water, a lush park and rainbow lorikeets in the trees. It was nearly June, but we wanted to dive in. Instead we sat on the concrete steps for ages, watching the little girls at a birthday party splash about.

After Nielsen Park, our walk moved back to the residential streets, which was fine because we loved seeing the beautiful homes in Vaucluse. We weren’t sure if this was the route we were supposed to take, but we kept winding back to the coast, so I suppose it was right. We crossed the bridge over Parsley Bay, then shared a bench for another extended period of time.

Eventually we reached Watsons Bay. We had no idea what would be there — I hadn’t done any research — but we were pleasantly surprised. There was a big open park, restaurants along the wharf, and a trail up to The Gap, which offers extraordinary views south to the city skyline and north to Manly, not to mention the sparklingly cobalt Tasman Sea.

Back at the wharf, we ordered takeaway fish and chips from a place called Doyle’s. We had to finish the meal on the ferry back to Circular Quay, but it was delicious. I later learned Doyle’s is something of an institution at Watsons Bay, and for good reason. Those were the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. My friend Becky later declared it the best meal she had in Sydney, but to be fair, we had just walked nearly five miles and my mom paid for it. Still, I’d say it’s worth the trip...by ferry or by foot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

School Shmool

I finally got my results for the courses I took at Sydney Uni (Sociology, Linguistics, Sociology of Sport, and Indigenous Australia). The classes only count pass/fail at Missouri, so it doesn’t matter much, but I’m happy with my three Distinctions and a Credit (My Sociology of Sport lecturer was an extra tough grader).

Overall I found Sydney Uni a lot more demanding in ways. I don’t think the lecturers were any better than at home or that I learned much more from them. They just graded harder. Whereas at Mizzou I expect every test and essay to come back to me with an A on it (I’m the person frustrated with a B+), at Sydney I felt their main goal was to remind us all how average we are. Toward the end, I started to learn the system better. To do well you needed to be very explicit in your analysis. Analyze, analyze, analyze, then analyze your analysis.

For comparison’s sake, my percentages and how they’d translate in the States:
82% Distinction (A-)
79% Distinction (B+)
75% Distinction (B+)
72% Credit (B)

Oh, and the photo is a shot from the hip as I walked behind some school kids on George Street one afternoon.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tropical Dinner

After my friend Nicole and I went to the Sydney Fish Market and made tuna steaks one time, we decided fish dinners should be a more regular event. We didn’t make them quite as often as we'd hoped, but still had a few nice meals. For the second dinner, I wanted to try cooking fish in lemongrass and coconut milk like a recipe I’d seen once. What better to go on the side than pineapple fried rice? Ok, I’d really always wanted to fill a pineapple with something and this was my chance.

I’m not huge on sticking to recipes. I usually look at a bunch of different ones, write down ingredients and a basic plan of what to do with them, then wing it from there. Unless I'm baking, I never know how much of anything I'm supposed to put in. So I can’t tell you exactly what I did with this fish, but I’ll give you the gist. I took some white fish (forget which kind) and marinated it in fresh limejuice, ginger, cilantro, garlic, green onion, chilis and lemongrass (all really cheap at the Paddy's Market in Chinatown). Then I put it in a long deep pan, poured coconut milk over the top, added more lemongrass stalks and baked it till it looked and felt done.

As for the rice, I added broccoli, shredded carrots, sprouts, an egg, probably some onion and fried that up with soy sauce, then tossed in half the pineapple chunks from the hollowed fruit and served it.

Everyone enjoyed the dinner, though I couldn’t help but feel something was missing from the fish. It needed some spice, but we didn’t have any at our disposal. I’ll have to try it again now that I’m home with a well-stocked kitchen. (Also, maybe the lighting will be better than it was in the university apartment.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Whoever thought to get bowling reservations?

When two friends and I decided to walk to Centennial Park one day, we got sidetracked at the Entertainment Quarter of Moore Park. The EQ branches off Fox Studios like a mini City Walk from Universal Studios in LA. There are restaurants, shops, a movie theatre, a Love Sac store (more on that later) and a Strike bowling alley. It’s also right by the Sydney Cricket Ground and Sydney Football Stadium.

The three of us visited the EQ at an off-peak time, but we saw great potential for life and atmosphere. I read there are fresh produce markets on Wednesday and Saturday and a bazaar on Sunday, but never got a chance to see for myself.

I would argue the Love Sac store is reason enough to go to Moore Park. What’s a Love Sac? It’s like a huge beanbag chair, but filled with shredded foam stuff that makes it basically the most comfortable thing you’ve ever sat in. Ever. My friends and I sat on the thousand-dollar sac oohing and ahhing for probably half an hour, and no one from the store ever told us to leave. (The pic is actually from the time I got comfortable at the Hollywood store.)

The original purpose of this post was to talk about Strike, which has a Monday night special of $5 games and $4 pizzas. My friends and I returned the following Monday, and despite the slight deadness of the EQ, Strike was fully booked from 7 to 11. We never thought to call a bowling alley ahead of time for just three people. We decided to order a pizza and give evil glares to the people who had the presence of mind to make reservations. Just before we decided to charm our way into a game with three random guys, we noticed a lane that had been empty for a while. Someone didn’t show up, so we were able to get a game in before the next party.

It was a pretty cool bowling alley. Unfortunately we had just started to warm up when the game ended and we had to go, but live and learn. Too bad the Love Sac shop wasn’t open that late.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

So Close, Yet So Far

People often ask me how I find all the things I do. I guess I read a lot. I always check out the listings in the local newspaper and free magazines. I look at blogs, which then lead me to other blogs. I take fliers or remember to google things I see on posters. What I loved to do in Sydney though was look at the bus map. I’d see where public transport would take me, then do a little internet research to figure out what was there.

One of the largest green sections on the Eastern Sydney bus route is Centennial Park. Every time I opened the map, I told myself I needed to go, but for some reason it took me four months to get there. If you go to Sydney, don’t wait that long.

Along with neighboring Moore Park and Queens Park, Centennial Parklands offer about 890 acres of oasis. Three minutes from the busy street, you reach the duck pond and feel miles (or kilometers) away from everything.

Sydney birds always amazed me, and Centennial Park is the place to see them.

You can get so close to cockatoos, swans, pelicans and flocks of other birds I’ve never seen before.

Wander a little more and suddenly you wish you didn't give all your breadcrumbs to the birds.

I absolutely loved this park, and wish I had more chances to visit. If you want a leisurely walk, a spot to picnic, somewhere to escape the city, a field to play Frisbee, a bike path, a gorgeous run, a hill to roll down, a tree to climb, a place to ride horses...nearly anything...Centennial Park all the way.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Another Sunset in Manly

When my mom came to visit me, I tried to put together the best 10-day itinerary, which would hit the essential sights without being over touristy and would let her see the many sides of Sydney. I had a great plan for most of the week, but the hardest part was figuring out what to do the first day when I figured she’d be pretty exhausted.

Then came the New York Times to the rescue. (Has it ever done me wrong?) I found an old article I’d bookmarked, “Fighting Jet Lag in Manly.” I remembered the first time I went to Manly, I sat next to two Americans who were also fresh off the double-digit flight.

It was perfect. We caught the ferry at Circular Quay, which offers up-close views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The ride is a leisurely half hour and you can sit inside or out.

Once in Manly, you can stroll in and out of shops on the Corso, eat kebabs by the beach and get attacked by seagulls, take a dip in the rock pool, walk to neighboring Shelly Beach or take a bushwalk up the North Head.

Stay for sunset.