Monday, January 26, 2009

Week Twenty-two

Happy Australia Day!! Today is the official national day of Australia, celebrated annually on the 26th of January to commemorate the proclamation of British sovereignty at Sydney Cove in 1788. There are heaps of events going on today all over the city, including parades, fireworks and millions of Aussies drinking and barbecuing all day, about half of whom doing so because it's Australia Day. I decided to celebrate by going to Federation Square, the center of Melbourne, to watch fireworks and tennis with a Canuck and 3,000 French supporters rooting against my boy Blake. Uhh, les gens stupides!

It's been a busy week in Melbourne with the Australian Open now half-way complete, and with the long weekend catering to thousands of local, national and international visitors. It's also been a busy week back home. Apparently on Tuesday we got a Black president. Did you know that? I was in New Zealand at the time, but according to every single person I met during the last few days, it's true. One Finnish backpacker said he could no longer hate Americans because of it, which is as nice a compliment a European could bestow on an American.

Last week I dusted off my trusty backpack and traveled through the northern island of New Zealand and Sydney, meeting many backpackers from all over Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Canada. It was great to meet and inspirational to chat with young kids fresh out of college and older professionals taking breaks in their careers, all to spend months away from home to see the world and gain new perspective. The trip itself was also fantastic.

After I left boring Auckland on Wednesday, I spent three days in the Bay of Islands, sailing, boating and speed boating. I also took two ferries and a cruise, spending as much time on the water as possible. There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands, and the famous Hole in the Rock is among them in the northeastern part of the bay. One could sense the amazing originality in naming their landmarks ("Wow this is a great bay, with many islands"/"What should we call it"/"I know, 'Bay of Islands'"...), while sailing through the picturesque location. It was beautiful and the weather was fantastic. I even hung out with dolphins!

Following my four days in New Zealand, I spent 22 jam-packed hours in Sydney, touring Kings Cross, Lane Cove and walking from Bronte to Bondi Beach. It was great to see different parts of Sydney and I have to say, I'd definitely be keen to live there as well as Melbourne. Perhaps I'll get that chance.

Traveling with open-minded and big-eyed backpackers have again made me appreciate the situation I am in, knowing that it's a rare opportunity that I've been blessed with to live in a different part of the world and embrace the various new cultures. I'll do my best to find something to keep me here, even if just for a few more months, so I can go back to the States having fulfilled my time abroad. I'll have more clarity by the end of this week.
Well, Wednesday I'm off to the Australian Open quarterfinals and on Thursday I head over to Alice Springs and Uluru. I'll be back in time for the Super Bowl. Arizona 20, Pittsburgh 17. Twenty-two weeks down, 30 to go...??

Week Twenty-two Summary:
Weather: It was as perfect a week weather-wise as possible. This week, however, will likely blow.
New observation: Aussies abroad are LOUD. It's a wonder why people think Americans are annoying...
New activity(ies): Speed boating, Australia Day
New food: New Zealand barbecue
New word(s): "yo it's sweet as bro" & "Haere mai" - two traditional Maori phrases, according to a Maori tour guide."
New people: all of the randoms on the Bay of Islands bus tour
What I miss: making fun of Jameson Bull, Fisherman's Wharf on a foggy winter morning, Arrested Development, my feather queen-sized comforter, air conditioning

Monday, January 19, 2009

Week Twenty-one

So tomorrow is The Inauguration, the hottest ticket event since Right Said Fred took over Berlin in 2006. But who needs to spend $10,000+ to see it live when you can go to Legoland and see the much better Lego Inauguration? And you wondered whether or not nerds with too much time on their hands could ever find employment. If only I were so lucky.

This is the fifth full week of Don's inaugural 2008-2009 vacation. As such, I decided to spend this week in the Land Under the Land Down Under: Hot, sunny, flat, beachy New Zealand. Actually no, it's not. It's pretty darn cold here. I arrived in Auckland, the second-most boring city in the Southern Hemisphere, four hours ago and it took me one hour to get my luggage, one hour to get a shuttle and get to my hotel, ten minutes to see the city, one hour to eat and fifty minutes to find an internet cafe. There's not a lot to do here. In fact, my three-hour flight delay in the international terminal at Tullamarine Airport had more to do, as there were two cafes and some duty free shops. Auckland only has a McDonald's.

Luckily, tomorrow I will be meeting with a Contiki mate and on Wednesday I head to the Bay of Islands for two fun-filled days of sightseeing. This is good because unfortunately, there's plenty going on Australia and my timing was as usual, very very poor. Lance Armstrong flew all the way from Austin, the coolest city in America, to take a bike ride through Adelaide, the most boring city in the Southern Hemisphere, in the 2009 Tour Down Under (you were wondering what could trump Auckland). The Tour Down Under started yesterday, the day before the Australian Open.

For the past month, the most elite tennis players in the world have been touring Australia and playing in smaller competitions to bone up for The Big One. I'm totally pumped! I have a ground pass for the Monday I get back and tickets to the Quarterfinals on the 28th of January, and during the weekends the city apparently becomes more alive with even more dancing, drinking, pickpocketing, theft and good old fashioned alcohol-induced Aussie street violence. While I will be doing my best to avoid all of that, I will be watching good tennis and hope my boy Roddick will come through with at least a semifinal appearance. After all, should he really have to spend any more time with Brooklyn than is absolutely necessary? I say no.

So Week 21 is almost in the books and it was spent with some more Contiki friends seeing some more of the city. I finally went to the Queen Victoria Market and caught up on a few errands. Nothing new to report on the job front, but things look promising both here and abroad. At least more promising than they did in Week 20. And with that, my one-hour internet allotment is nearing an end. Worst $7.92US I ever spent. And I can't forget: Happy MLK Day Jasmine!! Twenty-one weeks down, 31 to go...??

Week Twenty-one Summary:
Weather: Tuesday was 40, but every day afterwards was PERFECT. And it's only 18 here in Auckland!
New observation: with 24-hour food courts, entertainment, movie theatres, shops and more, you really could live in the Crown Casino and never leave.
New activity(ies): Queen Victoria Market, international flights out of Tullamarine
New food: shrimp on the barbie!! Yum.
New word(s): "This week: Sale on Diet Coke". The greatest phrase I heard in the past 21 weeks and it came in Auckland.
"New people: More Northern Irish professional poker players
What I miss: inauguration day, non-Qantas flights, John Wayne International Airport, laughing at the Arizona Cardinals, Arrowhead Mountain spring water

Monday, January 12, 2009

Week Twenty

American legend Slappy White once said that "The trouble with unemployment is that the minute you wake up in the morning you're on the job." So, my work day officially began at 10:17 a.m. Not good if you're a retail worker, administrative assistant or newspaper delivery boy, but not too shabby if you're a Somali pirate, professional poker player or lead singer of Guns N' Roses. And the last time I checked, those three professions were much more lucrative, meaning I am definitely on the right track.

It's the twentieth week and my how time flies when you're incredibly utterly hopelessly bored. It's been one month since my last day at Burson-Marsteller and during this month I have definitely seen a lot of Australia. This past week one of my mates from my previous holiday came and spent four fun-filled days touring Melbourne. Of course I had to be a good host and show Sylvain, a stereotypical French-Canadian hockey-playing drunk, that Melbourne was the best city in the entire world. I accomplished this feat by showing him the Royal Botanical Gardens, taking the Yarra boat cruise down the country's dirtiest river, and waking up too late to take a tour of the MCG. We also got lost twice, took the wrong tram twice and spent the first half of Tuesday waiting for me to get a haircut, which altogether shows I should not be counted upon to know this city nor to be a good host.

I did, however, treat Sylvain to delicious $4 pizzas at Lucky Coq, two beers at the Belgian and a night of reminiscing with fellow Contiki alums at Bridie O'Reilly's. Good fun with good people.

I also spent a good day of sightseeing with my favorite Irish former-colleague, where we visited the sprawling towns of Gisborne and New Gisborne, as well as the Hanging Rock Reserve, which obviously needs to change its name as there were no African-Australian tourists within a 50-kilometer radius (note that this is not the same owner as that of Megan's favorite "hangout", the Hangin' Tree Saloon).

Hanging Rock, a formation and collection of volcanic rocks about an hour northwest of Melbourne, was popularized by a book and subsequent film documenting the mysterious disappearance of several schoolgirls who picnicked at the site in 1900. Apparently three schoolgirls mysteriously vanished into the rocks, showing that even more than a century ago Australian girls weren't exactly the brightest stars in the universe.

Now that I've seen the infamous Hanging Rock, as well as Melbourne, Sydney and coastal Queensland, I'm wondering where I should go next. I have a diminishing savings account but a desire to see more. Although I finished my amazing Queensland holiday over a week ago, this past week was just as fun seeing parts of Melbourne I had never before visited and other parts I never knew existed. I'm running out of time before I have to go home, and I want to spend these weeks that I'm not working touring other local places. Next on my to-go list include (though I know I won't be able to accomplish all of them): New Zealand, Uluru, Tasmania and Perth - in that order.

Finally, I know a lot of you are wondering when I'm coming home for good. I'm purposefully being relatively vague as there are still several scenarios that can happen that would alter my plan. I have come up with a couple of different plans accordingly. I'm currently looking for opportunities in Melbourne, Sydney, New York and San Francisco, and really don't see myself in any other locale in 2009. Of course if things don't work out, then in 2010 I might expand that list to include Texas, Canada, law school, a gutter, an Asian boy band, Borders Books & Music, Syracuse and the Singapore Taxi Academy, as places I could picture myself twelve months from today. So as it stands, week 20 is in the books and the question mark countdown remains: Twenty weeks down, 32 to go...??

Week Twenty Summary:
Weather: It's supposed to be 39 degrees on Wednesday. That's CELCIUS. I want to jump off a bridge.
New observation: Something crazy cool better happen at Obama's inauguration for $20,095!
New activity(ies): river cruise, St. Kilda pier and the local Hanging Rock
New word(s): Ute (utility vehicle), throw a wobbly (lose your temper)
New people: the Kosters, the Coopers, and Joe's personal taxi driver
What I miss: the NFL playoffs, Family Guy, my U.S. phone book, Carl's Jr., Kings of Leon, North American bacon, my old iPod (the one with all of my songs :( ).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Week Nineteen

So this is the New Year and as such, our lives all of a sudden become open to endless possibilities. We can start to live a healthier, more productive life and write a tidy little list of things that we'll be better at this year than last. Democratic Americans, Syracuse football fans and high school seniors have been looking forward to the change 2009 may bring for quite some time. For me, however, I set my life's changes in action 19 weeks ago and I'm starting January no different than the way I started December or November: with a freshly-shaven face, an ice cold Diet Coke and a new blog entry.

I know. You've all had lame Christmases and lackluster New Year's Eves. You've been spending an overwhelming time boring yourselves silly with your boring families and boring friends in your boring homes and you've all been anxiously awaiting today's entry for the last three weeks. Lucky for you, today is Monday and it's Week 19 on 12,767KM. My how time flies.
A lot's happened in the past three weeks. Violence has escalated in Gaza, the PAC-10 went 5-0 in bowl games and a series of avalanches rocked British Columbia. But more importantly, Don did a lot of pretty cool stuff. No, he didn't get engaged like some Syracuse classmates, and no...he didn't get a new job. But, from December 18th through the 31st, he did travel more than 1,800 kilometers from Cairns to Surfer's Paradise with half a hundred strangers, seeing the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands, Fraser Island, Brisbane and Gold Coast, among other locations. While the weather was as expected, ridiculously hot, the activities more than compensated for the heat as we spent a significant portion of time in the pool, river, lake or ocean, and the rest of the time I spent in a pool of my own sweat.

The main attraction was the Whitsunday Islands, what several natives said they would most like to see if they vacationed in Australia. The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands composed of dense green pine forests, vivid blue water and roughly contoured coastlines that give the group of islands instant eye appeal. I spent two days from December 23rd until the 25th sailing the islands, going to the beaches and snorkeling the waters in-between, in what was definitely something I won't forget. I slept on the deck both nights, next to three of the loudest snorers in the Southern Hemisphere, on a hard rounded surface that made my back ache for the next three days, but it was well worth it.

Of course, the real highlight of the trip was meeting so many wonderful people from all six continents. There were approximately 50 of us from all over the world - Singapore to South Africa, Switzerland to New Zealand and Montreal to Sao Paulo, and we all spent our Christmases together in the Whitsundays. We started each of my dozen days at around 6 or 7 a.m., averaging two or three times as many drinks-consumed than hours-slept per day, and bonding over unique stories and shared adventures in beautiful coastal Queensland, Australia. Some of my own personal highlights include:

10. Sleeping on the deck underneath the stars on a flotilla yacht in the Whitsundays
9. Cuddling a koala in Kuranda
8. Winning the Battle of the Sexes contest in Cairns by stripping, lap dancing and drinking mystery beverages
7. White water rafting the Tully River, a class 3-4 rapids
6. Surfing on the coast of Surfer's Paradise in the Gold Coast
5. Diving into a waterfall and lake on the border of Queensland and New South Wales
4. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
3. Drinking beer underneath the Milky Way on a farm in Rockhampton
2. Swimming with sea turtles in the Whitsundays on Christmas Eve
1. Caryn introducing herself to the German by calling him a douche bag. "Vaht es a douche bag?" "You're a douche bag."

It was a fantastic trip and exactly what I needed. Now there is some irony in that this two-week holiday has actually made me want to go back home. I traded a Christmas vacation in California for a Christmas vacation in Queensland, and took this trip to fully experience Australia. I wanted to avoid the Americans and hang out with Europeans and South Americans who like me, came here with an open mind and desire to see a new part of the world and the culture that lied within. And I loved the culture and adored this part of the world. Yet, by hanging out with Americans, incredibly funny, sweet and smart Americans, I realized how much I miss all of my friends back home, and by seeing the best sights in Australia I'm not sure what more there is left for me to really see and do here on the limited budget I am on.

There are a few people who want me to stay and quite a few more who want me to come back home. I'm at a point where I'm happy to go back home for good within the next few weeks or month, unless something compelling enters my life and coerces me to stay. I'm still convinced that there are more opportunities for me here, but the extent of which I'm uncertain. I now have two recruitment representatives working with and for me, and during this "transition period" I can see more of Australia. It's a new year and with that come new goals and new resolutions, but mine are the same as they were on August 27th: to see more of this world, to gain life perspective, to meet amazing people and to come back to the States a better and more-rounded person. Nineteen weeks down, 33 to go...??

Week Nineteen Summary:
Weather: HOT. In Queensland the sun really beats down on you...
New observation:'s little wonder why skin cancer is a problem in Queensland. I went through an entire bottle of sunscreen and then an entire jar of aloe vera :(
New activity(ies): white water rafting, surfing, snorkeling, koala cuddling, sailing, German mocking, kangaroo eating
New food: emu, crocodile and kangaroo
New word(s): sus, as in dodgy, as in sketchy, as in "The bus driver is sus."
New people: An Aussie who used the international distress signal by accident, a German douche bag, a Slovakian drug dealer, an Indian 7-11 worker and a French Canadian who's spending the week at my place
What I miss: Tara Zoellner, Matt Gorman, New York City, rooting against the Patriots, everyone from my amazing holiday