A weekend in Singapore

 

At the end of the Australian financial year (which falls in June for some odd reason) there was a massive sale for flights to Singapore. On a whim, my friend, Aurélie, and I booked tickets for a Friday- Tuesday night trip. It was crazy. A 7 hour flight for only 3 full days? What about the jet lag? What about the weather (30+Celcius), what about….here goes nothing.

As most trips do, this one started off not going as planned. Our little 6 hour hop across the pond, was delayed over two hours whilst we were already seated in the plane. Evidently the flight attendants didn’t match tickets with passengers correctly, and spent about an hour and a half going back and forth through the cabin coating heads, matching tickets, and furiously conversing with each other over the mishap. Eventually, the wheels were up and we were off.

We had planned ahead and grabbed a few Singaporean dollars prior to departure, which served us well when we need to get food quickly upon arrival. The airport alone was a sight to see. So big. So beautiful. So CLEAN. This was probably the most striking thing about Sinapore as a whole…the city was spotless.

As we left from the airport, I quickly learned why this city is sometimes referred to as futuristic. Their public transport system is quite simply supreme. It’s called the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT for short), and it was impressive. There were clear signs (in English, nonetheless), colored lines along the floor, and we never waited longer than about 2.5 minutes for the next train to appear.

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It was also extremely affordable. We used it exclusively for our travels during our stay and never spent more than about 5singaporean dollars per day.

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We had thoughtfully researched our location, and had pre-booked a beautiful Airbnb located in the Bugis district. The place was clean, new, well furnished, and a great launching pad to all the sites we wanted to see. The first evening, however, we were far too exhausted to venture anywhere, and with it already being about 8pm local time (though 11pm to our Aussie time-zoned bodies), we crashed after a quick meal.

 

 

Saturday- Day 1

On our first real venture out, our number one task was to find coffee. Not wanting to waste precious time, we popped into the first shop we saw, paid about 6.5 for an iced coffee (iced is the only way to go when at 9am the humidity is already above 85% and the temperature is hitting 30C). With coffee in hand we continued our walk until we saw a long line of locals queued up in front of a place called “Toast Box” (little did we know this would become our go-to brekky).

Aurélie tried a tradition kaya toast breakfast, while I indulged in what can only be described as the Singaporean equivalent of an egg mcmuffin. Only, this was SO MUCH BETTER. The bread looks like plain old whitebread, but I promise you, it simply isn’t.

Fueled by both caffeine and food, we headed off to China town (our main target for the day). Walking through the streets was a blur of color, people, shops and stalls.

I made notes of the more fragrant food options for our return trip, and we quickly made our way to the Budha Tooth Relic Temple, one of the larger ones in China Town. Our timing was impeccable as the Monks were in the middle of a morning prayer as we entered. It is traditional upon entering the temple to place extra layers of cloth over any exposed skin, and, in some instances, also remove your shoes. Seeing as the temperature was only climbing, we had chosen proper summer attire, and therefore had to add a few layers of cloth before entering. During our time in the temple, we were also treated to our first of many experiences of flash thunderstorms. We spent an hour or two wandering around the many levels of the temple (one of which included a museum), before finally reaching the rooftop gardens, where the sun conveniently reappeared.

For a refreshment, as we were both already feeling dehydrated, despite packing copious amounts of water, we stopped into a Hawker food centre. These Hawker centres are open air buildings that have dozens of food stalls within them. There is a hot debate over which hawker centres are the best in Singapore, so we chose the top rated one in China town, Maxwell Road. Aurélie’s eyes grew three sizes when she saw fresh coconuts (a luxury she has not enjoyed since her time living in Trinidad). Whilst she sipped that down (I never knew how gooey coconuts are), I found this fried shrimp pancake that I convinced myself was the perfect breakfast/lunch option. The meal was fast, cheap, fresh, and delicious. It was also an experience.

 

Did I mention just how HOT and humid this place was? Imagine 50+ food stalls (all with open flames and friers), piled into a relatively small open-air building, with nothing but a few fans helping to circulate fresh air. It’s toasty. Moreover, we quickly learned that napkins are just not a “thing” in Singapore. A very nice gentlemen directed us to sinks in the corner of the building which are evidently used for washing up after dining. Indeed, as the silverware shortage seemed to be similar to the napkin one, and thus after dining with only our fingers, it was quite necessary to have a good wash up. (the picture below is from a very nice indoor eating area at a mall…they had sinks at the hawkers, but they did NOT look like this)

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We continued on through China town, winding our way through the streets so we could pass by temples on our map.

IMG_2560We stumbled across another hawker centre in Little India, and Aurélie found another treat she had been missing, fresh made roti bread. I must admit, it was pretty delicious. Tracking down roti quickly became a theme for the duration of our stay, and proved to be quite challenging as google maps was incredibly unreliable at giving accurate opening and closing times for the food stalls. It seems shop owners here simply do as they please. So, arrive early, or no roti.

Little India had a completely different feel to China town. I must admit, I felt a lot more “watched” in the hawker center here than in China town. It didn’t seem like a lot of non-locals ventured to these lesser known hawkers and two young, female foreigners managed to attract a fair bit of attention. However, the colours and art made this section vibrant and beautiful and well worth a visit.

With a full day of walking under our belts, and our bodyweight lost twice over in sweat, we went home to clean up before dinner.

To say that I went to Singapore for this one meal is probably a bit of an overstatement, but to say I’d go back to have it again wouldn’t be far from the truth. We booked what would be our most expensive meal at Momma Kong’s in China town to enjoy the world-renowned Singaporean Chili crab. The crab was exceptional, and the sweet buns we had with it were straight from heaven. Highly, highly recommend this restaurant. A perfect end to our first full day.

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Sunday- Day 2

Having learned from our expensive first coffee, we had purchased some coffee from a store to make at home, and thus started day two with a much cheaper homemade iced coffee. We ventured over to our local Toast Box, repeating our meal from day 1, before heading off to the docks.

Today, we had decided to venture off the coast of Singapore to a little island called Pulau Ubin. With a population of 38 residents, and a size of about 10 square kilometers, it remains very underdeveloped compared to the mainland. You can only access it via little boats, and the only way to really travel the island is by bike.

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On arrival, we were greeted by 4 or 5 bike rental vendors. The lady we eventually rented from greeted us by saying “would you like a normal bike or a good bike?” I kindly asked what the difference was and she explained that a normal bike would be 8 dollars for the day, is a little squeaky and very old, whilst the good bikes are newer, have more gears, and run for 18 dollars. With the average drink costing around $15-20, we decided roughing it on an $8 bike was more cost effective. What an adventure.

No sooner had we handed over the money than another flash thunderstorm hit. Seeking the only shelter available, we huddled under a nearby tent with a few other travelers.

In true tropical fashion, the raging storm passed through quickly and we were on our way through the trails. Aurélie had mapped out our route, with an end target of the Chek Jawa wetlands at the end of the Island. While the distance wasn’t much (only a few kilometers), the bikes created some chaos. Slipping chains, missing brakes, and squeaky wheels had us very much appreciating our comparatively high-tech bikes back home in Oz.

We eventually made it to the reserve, and whilst the high tide covered some of the coral we were meant to see, the wildlife was abundant. We even caught sight of a swimming lizard ( a GIANT lizard).

Our trek by foot was slow, again, as the sun and heat was taking its toll. We found a seafood restaurant on the water. I enjoyed a small meal (feeling a bit dehydrated and not wanting to tempt my tummy), whilst Aurélie feasted on shrimp. I finished lunch at a coconut stand and finally had my first fresh cut coconut. Delicious.

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We headed back to the mainland and took a quick rest at home before venturing out on the town. We had our eyes on finding a rooftop for the sunset, and 1 Altitude Bar fit the bill. A $30 dollar cover charge seemed excessive, but with the included drink and the towering view of Singapore, it didn’t disappoint. The skyline was beautiful and seeing the shift from day to night, you get this sense that you are watching the city literally come alive from above. While most people opt to see the skyline from the Marina Bay Sands hotel (the one that looks like a boat on top of three buildings), this vantage point offered a beautiful view of the hotel itself.

Once the sun had set, we wandered along the riverbank and ended up stopping at one of the dozens of restaurants along the way. We chose ours mainly because the servers promised 30% off the food and a free drink each (you know the way to my wallet). We tried some calamari (one of my favorite seafood dishes), and the fry on them was superb and unlike any other version I’ve had before. Following dinner, we ended up exploring the Clarke Quay area, and Aurélie indulged my desire for a hearty dessert of sticky date pudding. Delicious end to day 2.

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Monday- Day 3

This morning we decided to break our routine and meander off the beaten path for a local dining experience (at least, this is the way Aurélie sold it to me). She had spent hours researching and had found this highly acclaimed traditional Singaporean breakfast café called Heap Seng Leong. When we got to the area, it took us about ten minutes to locate the tiny little café. The curb appeal was about as non-existent as the workers of the cafe.

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Two locals were having a laugh as we walked around the inside of the building complete confused. There was no front desk, no back kitchen, and no one standing up as we entered. What IS this place? Finally, the braver of the two of us (obviously not me), approached the men at the table and asked how we order. They pointed to a table at the back of the café where an old man and his father sat. We walked up to them, a bit uneasy and apprehensive, and asked for two traditional breakfasts (two poached eggs and a kaya toast) and returned to our seats. While the toast was actually not up to par with the aptly named “Toast Box” café, the kaya spread and eggs were delicious. They serve the eggs very runny (which was a bit of a worry to me), and with soy sauce.

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Amazing. I would have never walked into the place had I just walked by it, and I don’t think I would have walked up to the people in the back of this dimly lit building had I been alone. But this was the perfect example of that old adage about judging books by their covers…the cover was rough, but the story is now a cherished memory.

A little town called Joo Chiat, known for it’s beautiful housing and quirky neighborhood, was next on our list. The colours of the houses was reminiscent of pastel easter eggs.

I required some refueling after the walk (my ridiculously high metabolism was both a hindrance and bonus for the trip as I was constantly needing food, but then this allowed me to try all possible cuisines), so we ducked into a little café where I tried a different type of Bao bun (with pork floss). Bao buns had quickly become one of my favorite snacks in Singapore (think light and fluffy sweet bread), but I must admit, even for my pork-loving self, “pork floss” was a one and done experience.

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After a brief respite at our flat, we went our for the most anticipated destination of our entire trip, the Gardens by the Bay. My oh my, this did not disappoint. On arrival, we first wandered over to the onsite hawker center that some friends had recommended. I enjoyed a feast of satay skewers of shrim, beef and pork, and Aurélie found an oyster omelette and some roti. We seriously ate our way through this city.

We splurged a bit on tickets to the indoor attractions at the gardens, including the cloud forest and the flower dome. Whilst the flower dome was a bit unremarkable, the cloud forest was perhaps my single favorite destination of the entire trip. It contains the world’s tallest waterfall at 35 meters and this waterfall is the centerpiece of the exhibit creating both a calming ambiance and releasing a refreshing mist to the plethora of plants within the dome.

dscf5186.jpgThe tour through the clouds fittingly begins at the highest point of the dome. Escalators within the massive waterfall structure take you up to the peak of the falls, where you then follow skywalks that wind down and around the structure, with each level mimicking the flora of specific altitudes. Words don’t do it justice, and I’m not sure my pictures do either.

Our last stop in the gardens was by the Supertree grove. These are probably the most iconic part of the Gardens by the Bay, and, once again, they did not disappoint. Ranging in height from 25 to 50 meters, these 18 manmade trees tower over the gardens. The supertrees are adorned with over 160 thousand plants, and each tree has different planting schemes.

After we snapped some photos, we headed up to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. We bought a ticket to the 57th floor and found a table at the rooftop bar Ce La Vi. This floor provided a 360 view of Singapore, but was actually slightly less impressive having already been to the 1 Altitude Bar. We ended the evening out by snapping some nighttime pictures of the Supertree grove.

Our ill-timed meals meant we arrived back to our local neighborhood craving food. We opted to explore local cuisine and found a chain of hawker stalls nearby. We had yet to try a couple local cuisines—Aurélie was set on “fish ball soup” (how that sounded appealing, I do not know), and I went for their traditional chicken and rice. With about a $5 price tag, we both had a massive amount of food to take back to our room. I paired my meal with a local beer from Raffles.

Whilst chicken and rice may sound a bit boring (I almost didn’t go this route for just that reason), the flavoring on both the rice and chicken is very unique and delicately, deliciously simple. Aurélie’s  fishball soup, however, tastes exactly as you would imagine it would. To put it simply, it was not to my taste. She claims she enjoyed it, but would never eat it again. I think that speaks for itself.

And so ended day 3….

Tuesday- Day 4

Today marked our last day and we had honestly ticked of everything on our sight-seeing bucket-list. Thus, we decied our last day would be spent exploring the extensive shopping malls along Orchard street in the Singapore CBD. These malls were massive. I’m talking 7 stories high, with 7-8 buildings spanning multiple city blocks, with underground passageways to go under the major roads and into the MRT stations.DSCF5277.JPG

We didn’t end up doing much shopping for apparel or trinkets, but rather shifted our focus (or maybe I should say “maintained our focus”) on the cuisine. We found a grocery store that had a 30 foot long fridge full of fresh sushi/sashimi/nigiri. We grabbed the most appealing option and then continued through the shop. Taste testing items is not only an option, its practically required. Aurélie happily obliged the attendants, gleefully gobbling down every food item within reach.

Around lunchtime, she found her last “must-try” food (I swear her list grew longer and longer throughout the trip). It was called carrot cake, but there was no carrot and there was no cake. It’s cooked radish with spices, and it was something I would never EVER have ordered myself, but was probably the best thing we tried in Singapore. HIGHLY recommend. Maybe it’s a good thing we discovered it on our last day. I enjoyed a fried Kway Teow. A safe but delicious bet.

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Knowing we had our overnight return flight this evening, and being entirely determined not to eat airplane food, I began accumlating a food stash. Beyond the sushi, I also found some more kaya toast, and discovered the best beef jerky of my life. The jerky, or Bakkwa as its called there, was fresh, tasty and not at all dry. They roast it in the oven before giving it to you, which makes it even tastier. I packed away a few servings for later. Our last food purchase was Pandan cake. Again, I don’t know how we got through 3 full days in this city without trying this, but maybe it’s for the best. It’s a fluffy green spongey cake found in Southeast Asia.

Late afternoon marked the end of our adventure and we grudgingly reported back to the airport for our overnight trek back to Melbourne. The trip was a whirlwind of an adventure and has given me all the evidence I need to confirm you can see an awful lot in just 4 days. I hope to go back to Singapore one day, but I also feel like I saw all the “top things” I wanted to see. 10/10 would do again.

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The enigma that is the PhD

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A PhD has always been in the cards for me.  I idolised it in college, denied it after my masters, and chased it after a few years in the workforce. It was something that, on some level, I think I always knew I wanted to take on. I think originally I sought the challenge. I wanted to see if I could really achieve that “highest” level of education, but beyond that, the more I learned in high school, college and graduate school, the more I wanted to learn MORE. I never wanted to leave this amazing “safe space” of exploration. Within the university walls, intellectual curiosity wasn’t just encouraged, it was expected.

So here I am, chasing that dream of having two simple letters placed before my name. I’d be the 4th Dr. Woessner in my family, and the only one earning that title on foreign soil. Every day I’m thankful to be going through this process (ok, well, maybe every other day or so…we all have our “off” moments) and though I remain just as driven to achieve that final outcome, I think somewhere in the last two years while I kept the “what do I want,” I’ve changed my “why.”

I always thought a PhD was that big thesis you write at the end. So my why was always, to prove that I can finish a thesis. For my non-academia centred friends, the thesis is that giant book of a document you construct to illustrate to the “world” (not really the world, the only people who likely every read your thesis are your supervisors, external reviewers, and maybe an extremely overly supportive parent) what you wanted to learn, what you actually learned, and why it mattered. For the longest time I thought this document was the PhD. Writing it, after all, marks the “finish line”… so it makes sense that you define the process by the product right?

Wrong.

While most people know the end product of the PhD, the actual process of GETTING it is shrouded in mystery. It’s like a secret society. A process best described by the following quote: “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it, from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”

The PhD is not just a document. It’s a cult.  It’s a life. It’s a world all in its own. The further down the “rabbit hole” you go, the harder it is to poke your head back out and breathe. The only people who truly understand the extremes are the ones living through it beside you. There’s this instant state of camaraderie with any of fellow candidates. There’s an unspoken agreement to avoid “how far along are you” and “how’s your writing,” but then, even WE can’t help but to ask the questions now and then. Because we know. We get it….and let’s be honest, we are kind of curious about your progress so that we can adequately gauge our own.

But even though we innately “get” the journey we are cumulatively on, each individual is still walking their own walk. You can have research teams, groups and programs, and you can even be in the same college or university, but at the end of the day, you are the only one going through your journey. Because of this, it can be a very lonely road…if you let it.

This is the other side of the PhD, that no one really wants to talk about. The part where you spend long hours questioning every aspect of your project and all the decisions that you made, whilst simultaneously running through the countdown clock in your head. 4 years until I don’t have a scholarship, 3 years…2….1….

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the PhD is far more than the finish line. I know from the outside looking in, “when will you finish” is the only question some of my friends and family know to ask, but from the inside looking out, sometimes that’s the last thing we want to here….partly because there’s no easy answer to that. We are in a race against time are really our only hope for when we finish is that WE finish before our scholarship finishes.

I’m in the middle of my venture. I’m past the new and shiny phase of the project, but not quite to the complete disillusioned state. I still love my project. I still love the world and life I’ve created here, but it’s hard. My days, to a certain extent, will be on replay for the next 14 months or so as collecting data for my clinical trial is slow going. I’m doing other things, of course. Like almost every PhD student I know, I too am teaching, writing, and finding any  unique ways to improve my resume. I’ve also taken on a role at the university where I am helping to develop course content for several masters and undergraduate classes, and blending them into online videos and content. It has been such a steep learning curve, but something I’m sure will really help me when I am out job hunting one day.

It’s not all tough going….during your PhD you have some of the greatest “job” flexibility of your life– depending on the project you’ve set up. Mine, for instance, is an ongoing clinical trial. I am constantly enrolling new heart failure patients, and each patient undergoes about 9 testing visits over the course of 8 weeks, whilst also consuming the correct colour and dose of beetroot juice (my intervention of choice). This means that, for all intents and purposes, my project is always running, making it very hard to ever just “take a holiday.” Sure, I can work from home, and maybe take off early now and then, but if I want my project to ever be finished, I (and any holidays I want to take) am my own biggest obstacle.

Maybe for some people getting a PhD really could just be about conducting a study and writing a paper, but I think by taking that approach you would miss an incredible opportunities for self growth. Every day I learn something new about my project, my field of study, and most importantly about myself. So sometimes I think it’s good to sit back and be thankful for where I am. My what hasn’t changed. I am still doing a PhD. But my why is no longer just to face the intellectual challenge of completing a thesis. My why is because I want to challenge myself. I want to challenge my way of thinking, my determination, and the person I want to become.

This PhD isn’t about developing a project. It’s about developing myself.

What a life.

What an opportunity.

What a privilege.

It was never JUST about Australia

All the challenges and obstacles I once envisioned with regards to this international adventure were originally based around me finding a way to settle into this brave new world. I naively imagined that my accomplishments and self-satisfaction would peak when I finally hit that moment of feeling “at home” in Australia…but the funny thing is, I’ve recently come to realise that  this move was never really about adapting to a new country. It wasn’t about Australia,or some grand adventure to travel to the farthest ends of the earth (no, Mom. The intention was never to be so far away from home)…In this past year I’ve truly come to realise that the most significantly meaningful part of this experience has been learning how to define, embrace, improve and accept myself in a place where emotionally and geographically I have no one BUT myself to fall back on.

Throughout life I can pinpoint certain moments, days and events that have had a significant impact on my life course. Each one has in some way shaped me either professionally and personally. There was the time I got my acceptance letter into college,my first puppy, my first “big girl” job, my first time living alone, my first loss of a loved one etc etc. Up until now these moments have been just that–a moment. A singular point in time that had an impact. This past year, however, is completely different because it has been 365 days of these moments. Never before have I been able to look back at an entire year and so clearly see a dramatic difference between my current life perspective and my old one. I’ve grown. I’ve changed. In some really big ways, but also in a thousand little ones.
I’m the same person I’ve always been, but more confident. I’m self assured but self-reflective. I’m imperfect in a hundred ways but I’m embracing the flaws, highlighting the strengths, and working towards more. I find myself embracing the unexpected more readily. The adventurous spirit that used to be buried deep under a layer of social self-consciousness now shines brighter than ever before. My critical rational self is slowly learning to express thoughts and emotions more readily. I still pride my loyalty and friendships above all else, but I’m learning where and who to invest my time and energy in. I’m taking care of others but not at my own expense.
There are challenges. Oh my are there challenges. Instagram and Facebook tell a story of adventure, but the pictures only tell one side. I’m not trying to misrepresent my time here. Overall it really is so much better than I ever could have imagined, but time is flying and when you only have minutes to spare to share a story, you want to share the happy one. You want to post the photo of the fun. You post it for the loved ones back home to see you are doing ok (because really, even in the chaos, things are OK), but you also post it for yourself. Sometimes a quick photo with a thoughtful caption can be the reminder you need that the day to day is fairly frivolous, but within this frivolity is life. And taking a moment to smile at the big picture, or even the small picture, can be just what you need to keep chugging along.
I never thought this move would be easy. I knew it wouldn’t be. I used to pride myself on being independent, but I now realise how superficial and materialistic my definition of independence was. I lived far away from my family–INDEPENDENT (they had moved and I stayed within 30miles of where I’d always lived). I lived on my own–INDEPENDENT (I was too unorganised to find a roommate and so I became more hermit like). I went to movies by myself –INDEPENDENT(ok, I think this is still a good thing to do now and then, but really? that shouldn’t count as independence). I still pride myself on independence, but in a different way. I’m thinking for myself without being constrained by what other people may think. I’m not bound to any past history here because no one has known me for longer than a year. When you move, the nicknames, stories and character analysis is limited to the last 12 months, which frees you up to refine and redefine any aspect that you like. It’s freeing. It’s automatic independence from the expectations people had of you before as well as the expectations you had for yourself. I think my thoughts and share my opinions free of the labels that I let define me when I first arrived– American, english speaker, foreigner, athlete, PhD, homeschooler, etc. I’m independent of the both the societal and individual constraints I once let consume me. I’m not perfect, and I definitely still have my moments, but overall I truly think I’m becoming the best version of myself.
Australia was never just about kangaroos and koalas. It was never just going to be a study abroad experience. I think I always knew this trip would be life changing….I just never expected it to be so ME changing.
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Magnetic Island, Queensland Australia (photo credit-frombat)

The Power of Words

There are so many individual events to catch up on my blog (for instance my sister’s entire visit), but I feel it’s time for a post that’s not simply a recap on my every day world. So here goes nothing…or something.

I have recently been pondering the power of words. They can carry so much weight and yet they flow off the tongue with such ease that their strength is often forgotten. Words can seamlessly bring people together, clear the murky waters of misunderstandings, and create a connection in people with the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. They are amazing. These simple words that I’m typing right now are conveying thoughts and emotions that would otherwise remain trapped in my head. Spoken language is incredible.

Since being in Australia I’ve had countless moments where I am simply in awe of language.  Words can vary so dramatically language to language, country to country and even just person to person. A word spoken by one person can be entirely flipped in pronunciation, emphasis and even meaning when spoken by someone else. It amazes me how how someone from France or Italy can take even the most bland English words and turn them into something poetic, almost lyrical. There’s a flare to the words that I just don’t seem to have with my own language. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve worn mine out. I have spoken the same words (probably repeating the same few thousand fairly regularly) for 25ish years. Maybe that’s why a new language is so exhilarating–new words to describe the same experiences. But it goes beyond that even, because oftentimes through another language we discover new ways to describe things we never had a word for.

I’m not quite there yet with my second language. I’m still simply trying to learn words to describe my every day habits (yes, I’m finally past the “teach me the dirty words” stage of learning French—though, I am very fluent in several such phrases). My friends that have mastered at least two languages, however, get to reap the benefits of a nearly infinite volcabularly. They can just switch back and forth, French to English, to find the absolute BEST pieces of each to describe life. They call it Franglish and fight against it, but I call it impressive and dare I say, superpower-ish. Fight it all you want, but I would LOVE to have an entirely new volcabularly at my disposal. I have always loved words, and consistently try to challenge myself to use those “SAT” words I studied so much in high school, but that’s me just having some fun. Oh how I wish I paid more attention in my French classes.

But, I digress. The point is that language is incredibly powerful and can literally make or break connections. For instance, if my international friends here had never bothered to learn English, there’s just no way we’d be able to communicate effectively enough to forge a deep meaningful friendship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, our communication isn’t perfect. Even now, we have many nights where we spend hours playing charades with each other, only it’s not a game, it’s reading a recipe, and it’s not just gestures, it’s playing with words and the emPHAsis until we have the ah-ha moment of comprehension. But really, these moments just offer some comedic relief to relationships already built on so much more. I won’t say all of human interaction and meaningful connections hinges on spoken word, but I will say the ability to speak and share thoughts and emotions can create a truly powerful connection between individuals.

As with most things in life however, this power presents itself as a double-edge sword. Along with the ability to connect, build and bond comes the ability to tear down, separate and destroy. It is so easy to think a thought, say a word, and be forever free of it. But words aren’t words by just being spoken. They gain meaning, power and strength by being heard. And the perspective and context in which they are heard can dramatically influence their power. Words spoken in haste do not always disappear so hastily from the listener’s ears .Words can leave someone quickly in anger, but stay with another, resurfacing and replaying for years to come. An earnest jest could tug at the deepest insecurities of a friend. You truly never know the lasting effect your words could have on someone, so all you can do is assume the best.

Assume everyone has the best memory. Assume your words will forever be stamped in the story of their lives. Assume your words are so influential and powerful that they could literally change the world. Because you know what, for better or for worse…They can.

Choose carefully

 

 

Selfies with Kangaroos

This weekend it happened. I finally had my “oh my gosh, I am really in Australia” moment. It may have taken a week and a half for it to hit, but boy was it worth the wait.

This past weekend I traveled to Healesville Sanctuary (one of three zoos in the state of Victoria). I was thankful to have the opportunity to tag along on my Advisor’s (Jason) family trip out there (lucky for me they’ve adopted me into the family fold!) as this zoo is in no way easily accessible to me with only public transport and a bike at my disposal.

As we wound through the country roads, we got out first (or maybe just my first) real look at the Australian landscape, and I must say, I was surprised. We were in no way near the desert outback, but we were out an hour and a half from the CBD (central business district) of Melbourne. I expect to see dry, flat land with a lot of open fields, but where we were was lush and green (well as green as I’ve seen Australia anyway) and there were hills. There were HUGE hills. Hills big enough to cause some ear popping as we wound our way through them.

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(not the best picture from the car, but you get the idea)

As we drew closer to the sanctuary the landscaping only improved as we hit wine country. The vineyards were breathtaking, and we must have passed dozens of them. I made a mental note to find a wine tour that traveled out that way at some point.

Since it was a family outing, we all did our best to find kid friendly shows and activities and keep the little ones entertained as best we could, and luckily much of their interests coincided with mine. My long list of must-sees boiled down to Koalas and Kangaroos. And all expectations of the sightings were surpassed.

The zoo was beautiful. It reminded me of the Asheville Zoo in North Carolina back home in that the animals were, for the most part, in larger pens where they had some room to roam around. Beyond even the animal enclosures though, the walk around the zoo was scenic on its own.

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(walking through the zoo)

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(still within the zoo–incredible)

They had sculptures throughout (and some were interactive water sprayers) and the trees concealed any signs or sounds of human life outside of the sanctuary.

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When we made it to the kangaroos, I could hardly contain my excitement. They were in an enclosed pen that you could walk through. The animals had safe spots behind ropes if they wanted, and for the most part that’s what they wanted, but there was one little roo who was just curious enough to come say hello and I got some awesome shots of him(her?).

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It was a HOT day (95F so about 32C), so going in I assumed  that most of the animals would be hiding out in the shade, and while some were, a lot were out and about. It seemed like we kept hitting each pen at the opportune moment (feeding time). Even the Koalas (famous for their 22 hours of sleep per day) were roaming around when the keepers brought fresh food out. I managed to grab a few decent shots of those fuzzy old men as well.

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The whole trip was a grand adventure and a great kickoff to life down under. I don’t feel “at home” here yet (and maybe I never will, but 2 weeks isn’t enough time to know, give me a break!), but at least I can finally say two things for certain.

One- I am DEFINITELY in Australia.

Two- I got a selfie with a kangaroo!

Cheers!

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New home, new Uni, same old American girl

This week I moved into a townhouse with an American roommate I found before heading over. The story of our connection is semi-long so let’s just say we had mutual connections at UNC Chapel Hill (where we both attended – though not at the same time). It feels great to finally unpack all of my suitcases and feel like I have a bit of a “home” here. This is my new bedroom:
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It’s a fairly average size from what I’ve seen of the homes here and it has ample storage space for my modest amount of personal items. It is in a quieter part of town, but incredibly convenient to a shopping center (one of the LARGEST shopping centers around—and certainly bigger than any American equivalent I’ve seen.

My first night Ashley showed me the way to the shops in order to procure the groceries I needed to make my first mealin Oz. My jaw dropped when I saw the fresh market at this shopping center. It was HUGE.

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So how the shopping centers work here (or at least my experience of THIS one) is that they have EVERYTHING in them. They have clothing, banks, speciality shops (like at malls), produce markets, chain grocery stores, meat markets and pastry shops! It’s setup like a mall, so everything is indoors, but the pure size of this one is incredible. Back to the fresh market though. It is so vast that I literally didn’t know where to start. They had every fruit imaginable (and plenty unimaginable), and whatever they had, they had 10 varieties of. I’ve never seen so many plums in my LIFE.

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And all the fruit looked delicious
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Ashley circled the market like a pro, scouting prices, freshness and quality…meanwhile I fumbled around looking for recognizable fruits and veggies (bananas, grapes and lettuce), before ending up at the plum section. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a plum before, but I couldn’t leave the market without at least trying one of the varieties (it was delicious….no, I don’t remember which one I got).

Following the fresh market, we ventured over to Woolworths (the chain grocery store here) to get more of the everyday foods. I thought I was somewhat prepared walking in as I’ve shopped and cooked for myself for years now, but when you go to the deli counter and see every price in AUD$ and every weight in kilos and grams, you realize you are about to really show off your American-ness. Thankfully everyone around was incredibly nice and helpful.

Whilst wandering the store I did see some delicious imported beer….sadly it’s now quite out of my price range

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The BEST thing I purchased by far and above were these little pieces of heaven
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They live up to their hype in every way imaginable. YUM.

Ok, enough on food. I also visited the Uni (University) Monday for the first time. When you first walk up to it, it doesn’t seem all that special. Honestly it’s a bit dull with its old brick exterior, but as you wind through the paths you come across benches and trees and sculptures that make you feel like the place has some character. Beyond that, the building I will be working out of is the newest on campus and is stunning.

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(ISEAL-Institue of Sport, Exercise and Active Living)

I also started setting up my teaching contract. My advisor arranged for me to teach tutorials to Masters students at the Uni. Well, he set me up to teach “Tuts” (pronounces toots). It really is true that Aussies abbreviate everything. It honestly feels a bit like they let loose a bunch of teenage girls and had them shorten every word and then said “Yep. That’s perfect. Let’s all talk like that.” I don’t mind it at all, in fact I kind of love it, but until you know the lingo, it truly feels like everyone around you is speaking a different language.

I also had my welcome to Australia moment. Throughout the day I kept hearing semi-disturbing whispers after I mentioned my new town Maribyrnong. I overheard “river….body,” from one person, and a bit later after the same conversation with another person I caught the words “pieces…floating.” Needless to say as soon as I made it home, I looked up what the fuss was about. Evidently police here identified a body that was found in bits and pieces in the river near my town. OY. Ironically (I don’t know if it’s good or bad ironic, or if it’s even ironic at all) the death was not animal related. So much for the animals being so scary (STILL NO SCARY ANIMAL SIGHTINGS).

I met about 50 people I don’t remember and maybe 3 I do (not bad odds for me, honestly). I tripped UP the stairs in a grand, embarrassingly loud fashion twice (only one of which someone saw), and I got lost trying to find my way back to the room my advisor wanted me to meet him. All in all I’d say I got the full first day experience. Today was slightly less eventful, but I’ll save more stories for next time.

Cheers, Mates!

Living in the Sun Globe

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(View of Melbourne from the Train Station)

I think the weirdest part of my first few days living in Australia has been how NOT weird it has been. Don’t’ get me wrong, this is different, it’s a challenge, and I am definitely NOT in Kansas (the US) anymore…but it still isn’t quite the extreme I expected.

I guess it goes back to Americans’ expectations of what Australia is. We think outback, snakes, spiders, crocodiles—ok,ok, so we mostly only think of everything that can kill you, but isn’t that what Australia IS? Well, no.

So far Australia seems like some weird cross between England, Miami and California. It reminds me of England because they speak English, but not really (more on that later). Miami comes to mind due to the landscape and plants (built for hot weather!), and the cool wind even in the bright sun reminds me of my trips to California. The truth is, it still doesn’t FEEL like Australia, or at least the Australia I thought I was jumping into. I haven’t seen a spider, snake or shark, well, unless you count this big guy.

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(Giant shark slide the kids were loving)

So to all my American friends–Australia (at least in the cities) isn’t as scary as we all picture it to be. I haven’t even checked my shoes for spiders, though I do still look for snakes EVERYWHERE, but that could be due to my past run of bad luck with poisonous critters.

Now for what you REALLY want to hear about…all the weird things I’ve seen thus far! Let’s see, the new words I’ve learned thus far are:

Tasty cheese—seems to be some sort of cheap cheddar like cheese that I believe can pass for “American cheese”…I opted for swiss cheese that day as it looked questionable.

“Give way” signs—these are in place of “yield” signs….Made me smile

Sunnies– I overheard someone say to a friend “I really like your sunnies” and quickly figured out that they were referring to sunglasses. I like this abbreviation and will be adopting that one immediately.

Fairy Floss– Cotton candy’s cuter name…I love it. It reminds me of in france where it is referred to as something that translates to “Papa’s beard.” Personally, I prefer fairy floss….

I’m sure there are many more words I’ve forgotten, but those are the ones that have stood out to me.

Today was my first day out and about in the CBD (central business district of Melbourne) as we went to a Festival at Saint Kilda Beach. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the festival and though the morning was overcast (and a bit chilly with the wind blowing off the bay), the sun came out early afternoon and I saw the city in its natural light. It was beautiful. It is much like any other city with it’s large skyscrapers, graffiti marked alleys, and lots of trees. Melbourne has the added benefit of a river cutting through it and a bay up against it. To call it scenic is an understatement.

On the way to the city there are plenty of smaller suburbs (some of which are picturesque and some one would deem “sketchy” to travel through at night). There are also plenty of open patches of land with the wildlife look I expected from Australia. Flat lands with small rolling hills, dried grass next to plants that have seen way too much sun and are too little rain and very small trees. I loved that part of the train trip because it made me feel like I was truly down under.

No matter where I’ve been these last three days, one thing has stood out to me above all else and that is just how BIG the sky is. I feel like the only pictures I have been taking here are while utilizing the panorama setting on my camera because the normal photo simply can’t do the sky justice.

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(Saint Kilda Beach)

I truly feel like I am in a sun globe. I look up at the sky and think that surely this is exactly what someone in a snow globe would be seeing if their snow globe had sun. The sky truly feels like an immersive Imax experience and I simply cannot get enough of it. And the sunsets…oh my those sunsets…

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(Sunset from Jason and Sandee’s House in Caroline Springs)

Tomorrow will be a busy day as I finally get to see my University (I need to get used to calling it the Uni), and I will move into my new townhome, closer to school and closer to the CBD). It has been such a blessing to have this pitstop with my Adviser and his family, as being around friends made the transition much easier…still, I am very excited to finally unpack all of my suitcases (as I’ve been living out of them not wanting to unleash the chaos until I am in my own room).

Wish me luck as I continue this venture, friends. I am sure I will have trying times ahead, but so far I am adjusting well to my new life living in the sun globe.