Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nan Tien Temple!

This past Sunday Laura and I visited Nan Tien, or 'Southern Heaven/Paradise' in Chinese, Buddhist temple in an outer suburb of Wollongong.  This temple is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, and was really cool. We took the train south, and then walked about 20 minutes from the station to the temple, which was up near a mountain.  Laura and I talked about what we knew of Buddhism on the train ride up, and we mostly agreed that we liked Buddhist ideas of finding peace with yourself and harmony with others and the environment.
We took a tour, and our tour guide was a very knowledgeable and friendly man.  He was very passionate about his beliefs, and explained some of the harder to understand things about Buddhism to us. Everything is very symbolic within the temple. Like, for example, there were little smoke makers in several different places of meditation that represented how we must get used to change, because nothing is constant.  In the actual shrines themselves, there are several big Buddha's that represent different meanings, like Peace with Oneself, but along the walls there are also thousands of little Buddhas built into the walls. In one shrine at this temple there were 5000 little Buddhas built into the walls, all in gold coloring.
There were a lot of Chinese people there, but there were also quite a few Australians visiting, as the temple is quite a tourist spot. Everyone on our tour was Australian. It also has attached cafes and a hotel, and holds mediation weekends and retreats for people looking to wind down.   They also had a tea room where we warmed up out of the rain with Chinese hot tea. We also ate a small little vegetarian snack while we were there, and checked out the lotus pond!  It was a great little day trip south; it was truly a cultural experience here in urban Australia, and in many ways it did feel a lot like China!

This pagoda is a resting place for the ashes of people's loved ones.

A garden in front of the biggest shrine. 

The front of the shrine. No pictures were allowed inside.

I loved reading this picture on the wall- these are words to live by!

These baby Buddhas were carved in China by children in a orphanage.  
School-wise, this week was the toughest yet!  I can't believe we are into WEEK 5! We all had a paper due for our Australian 101 course due on Monday at 4pm- I got to the office around 4pm to drop mine off, and literally turned it in on the dot.  Laura ran in just 3 minutes after four and the lady collecting the papers told her she was late! They take deadlines super seriously here!  Then, on Tuesday, I had a lab report due for Marine Biology. I got lost looking for the place to turn my paper in, but luckily ran into someone who told me where to go.  Finally, on Thursday I had a Practical Quiz for the freshman year biology course I am taking.  I was allowed to use my lab notebook, but because I have had some upper level biology courses, I felt pretty good even without using it.
I can't wait for grades to come back! Considering these are the first assignments I have turned in all term (besides minor tutorial assignments) I am excited to see how things are graded here... or maybe not. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

It has been POURING rain since last week.  Someone even got swept into a storm drain and died this weekend from all the rain. It is really loud, too, and makes the waves and wind roar. 
I realized I hadn't added a picture of my room! HERE IT IS :) A218

I have been getting into a routine, now that we are into Week 4.  Today I had my third Marine Biology practical.  For our first one we looked at live algae sea grasses, learned about their life cycles, and got acquainted with the lab room.  Last week we traveled on a bus to a rocky shore on the outside of town.  We were given long measuring tapes and counted the different species of mollusks within quadrants around the shore to study biodiversity.  It was fun to play in the little rock pools; there were little crabs, all kinds of grasses, all different types of barnacles and shells stuck to the rocks, and even octopi!
 I had one of the craziest experiences with octopi- the lab helper found a bigger, harmless octopus and picked it up from under the rock.  It did not like being picked up or messed with, and flailed around until it made it back into the water.  The instructor walked up, though, and immediately asked for one of our little sticks. He had come upon a Blue-Ringed Octopus under a rock on our other side!  When I looked I couldn’t see anything (it was camouflaged), but when he would tap it with the stick it would literally turn ELECTRIC BLUE!  It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in nature- such an unnatural color on such a harmless looking, hidden animal.  Before we went out on the shore we discussed the risks in class, and the lecturer mentioned that Blue-ringed octopi were a risk, but that he had never seen any.  Anyway, when I got back from lab I did a little research on the blue-ringed octopus and found that it really is one of the most poisonous creatures in the ocean!  It holds the same kind of venom as the poisonous puffer fish, which acts as a neurotoxin and paralyzes everything, including the respiratory system, so that the effected person dies of oxygen deprivation. It holds enough of this venom to kill 26 humans within 6 minutes.  It’s also only found in the Eastern rock pools of Australia. WOW! Scary!  I don’t think I will be playing in any more rock pools while I’m here J.
On another note, I am missing some certain things from home.  For one thing, I miss ice.  Here there are no icemakers everywhere, and when you go to McDonalds they MIGHT give you 5 pieces of ice.  At restaurants I have to ask for ice, and even then the little bit that they bring is barely enough to keep my drink cool.  It’s funny, because at home they LOAD a drink with ice, because that is what is expected. 
Since my last blog a lot has happened, so I will do a quick run thru of all the highlights!  Weerona College has a big commencement dinner every school year to celebrate the beginning.  Everyone gets dressed up in cocktail attire and takes the bus over to UniHall for a nice dinner and drinks.  This was definitely one of my favorite things so far; it wasn’t just for international students, it was for everyone who lives here, so we got to hang out with all the Australians too!  When we got to the cocktail hour waiters were bringing out beers and glasses of champagne and wine and finger foods on trays.  We tried little spring rolls, and rice balls, and all sorts of little yummy foods.  We each got 5 drink tickets (soft drink, beer, wine, champagne), and it felt like a race to finish them all.  For dinner we had a nice chicken appetizer, then for the main I had delicious prime rib, and then somehow I missed dessert.  It was still probably the fanciest meal I have had in a while though, and it was nice to get away from the cafeteria food we have been eating lately. It was also one of the fanciest wild parties I have ever been to (I think the boys started drinking around noon!).
Lately, we have been renting movies (buy one get one free for international students, yay) and hanging out at the dorm.  Some friends and I went out for St. Patricks Day this past week, too, and that was a ton of fun! We started the afternoon pregaming, and then headed to an Irish pub nearby.  A girl on my hall from Colorado was celebrating her 21st birthday, so later we all went out and got pizza and celebrated the holiday!  After dinner, we went to a local nightclub that we frequent on Thursdays, and celebrated with everyone. It was a good night!
            I have been to Sydney two times since my last blog.  The first time we rode up on a Thursday night and went to an MGMT concert.  The concert tickets would have been $70, but a promotion for free tickets at Uni got us there for free!  It was a ton of fun listening to a familiar band from home here, and it was also fun to go up to Sydney for the night.
            My little Weerona CIEE family and I also went up this past Sunday to go to Sydney Aquarium.  The aquarium was super cool, but part of the fun is definitely just walking around Darling Harbor. Here are some photos!

Our CIEE family- Me, Ashley, Laura and Caleb!

Me and the largest animatronic shark in the world (besides Jaws). 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mardi Gras- Sydney gets QUEER!

So sorry I haven't written in a week or so... I have so much to write about and so many pictures to show y'all!
Last Saturday we traveled to Sydney to attend the one of the biggest gay pride parades in the world, Mardi Gras in Sydney.  About seven of us took the train to Sydney Central and wandered over to China Town first to have a bite to eat. I must admit the food was a bit disappointing, but I did order everyone a chicken foot to taste (our Wofford group tasted them when we visited China!) and we all enjoyed trying something new, even if we don't want to have it again.  China town in Sydney is a bit touristy- while the restaurants look very authentic inside, the food is a bit high and not all totally delicious.  Maybe even a bit too authentic for us? (or maybe we just picked the wrong place to eat?)...  We also stopped at Paddy's Market and I bought a purple, feathery headband for my hair and a purple boa to wear around with everyone else who was all dressed up.

Anyway, after our visit to Chinatown we ventured over to Oxford Street and towards Hyde Park.  We immediately saw crowds and crowds of people all moving in one direction towards the parade route.  The annual attendance of this parade is around 100,000 or more, all in the streets.
Huge crowds in the streets!

beautiful costumes!
Half man, Half woman!
Old people in drag!


Before the parade started we walked to the bathroom, and on the way I bought a stepping stool to help me see!  It really made a difference, as a lot of people had bought stools or brought milk crates to stand on, and I am really short.  The parade did not begin until 7:45, and we arrived around 6:30 (it was unbelievable how many other people got there earlier!), so we had quite a bit of down time before it began.  Most people around us were drinking and partying, except for most of the Asians.  
One thing that I did not realize about Australia before I came is how diverse the population is- especially Sydney.  Going to China last year made me feel very comfortable around Asian people, and that is good because Sydney is mostly Asians.  Seriously.  This picture may not show it really well, but in and around the city most people are of Asian descent. Steve Irwin is no longer the typical Australian (based on what I have seen).

Eventually, the parade began.  I will come back later to update the rest- right now I have to run! 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Water Babies

Updating for the past two days- the weather has been absolutely beautiful. School started this week, and its really hard to get into the swing of things here.  The buses that I have to catch in the morning are often completely full, so I have to leave for class really early.  Class structure is a little different here- lectures are not compulsory, and some teachers record their lectures and post them online, so it's pretty hard to inspire yourself to go to class.  Tutorials and practicals are compulsory, though, and everyone generally goes to those.  
Going to a bigger school is really cool- the campus really does have everything on it, and there are so many people roaming around every day.  I still haven't bought books yet because the Unishop has been so busy...

Thursday we went to the beach again.  It was a glorious day, and it seemed like everyone was at the beach.  The waves were not too big to get in, and the water was was so CLEAR.    I seriously had some moments where I couldn't believe I was in such a beautiful place- I can go to the beach over and over here, and it is still so stunning!  I feel blessed to go to school here- it really is gorgeous and it never gets old.

Today a group of us is headed up to Sydney to gather with another half a million people for the annual gay mardi gras.  Its one of the biggest gay parades in the world, and then one of the biggest parties afterwards.  The only taste of gay culture I have gotten was in Key West with my girlfriends on our senior trip, so I am excited to see all the men dressed in drag and fun glitz!  I will post lots of pictures and try to blog as soon as I get back :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Weekend Down South

This past weekend my program, CIEE, took us to southern New South Wales.  It was an amazing trip and I have a lot to tell. We were picked up early Friday morning from the dorms, and headed south in a big van.
Our first stop was the blowhole at Kiama, a cute little retiree town and tourist attraction.  The blowhole is a natural rock structure that is over the ocean/surf; when the surf washes in the water and air pressure push water up a chute into the blowhole, and it shoots into the air. It was really cool to see something nature formed on its own that could do this, and also says something about how old the rocks on the shore are.

The view from the blowhole.

In Kiama we also did some shopping at the supermarket- our program coordinators gave each group of 4 $120 to buy groceries for the weekend, and we spent it pretty quickly.  We bought stuff like frozen pizzas and fancy juice and eggs- basics that we have missed since we got here.
I snapped some photos of the 4 hour drive... the scenery changed quite a bit...
View from the road of Seven Mile Beach, a popular beginner surfing beach about an hour south of Wollongong.

Seven Mile Beach

Lush landscape!

Dairy country.

There were also some wineries mixed into the dairy country.
We stayed at an awesome campground resort in Merry Beach- 2 groups of 4 shared cabins with full kitchens and barbecues and jacuzzi tubs.  The campground had lots of Aussie caravans parked by the beach, with families and kids and cool tents.  It was seriously one of the coolest places I have ever been to; as soon as we pulled onto the long road towards the campground we saw mobs of kangaroos laying in the sun in the grass and bouncing around camp.  The kangaroos even came up and bounced around the campsites.  Since that was my first kangaroo sighting, I was pretty stoked, and immediately wanted to get as close as I possibly could to the furry, bouncing 'roos.

Can you spot the wallaby?
Look closer! Wallabies are solitary and shy animals, so we are lucky we spotted this one!
It was seriously like a zoo at this camp- we ran into this HUGE lizard almost as soon as we arrived!

The kangaroos were super cool, but what was even cooler were the wild parrots everywhere. We even fed them out of our hands!

After playing with the birds our group went on a walk to a beach nearby.  Our destination, Pretty Beach, truly lived up to its name and was very pretty!  

Surfers at Pretty Beach in the afternoon

Gorgeous view from the clifftop!  The mountains truly meet the sea here.

The sandy path we took to Pretty Beach.  If you look at the tree on the right you can see that there has been a fire here recently.

The next day we woke up bright and early and headed south to hike Mt. Gulaga. It was about an hour and a half drive south.  Mt. Gulaga, or Mt. Dromedary in English, is located in southern NSW near Tilba.  The mountain is sacred to the local aboriginal people, as they believe that it is the place of ancestral origin for their people. It symbolizes a mother mountain of the people.
Our aboriginal guide was the daughter of an influential Aboriginal man who worked throughout the 20th century getting rights for aboriginals and preserving their holy places.  Mt. Gulaga is now owned by the Aboriginal communities of NSW because of its cultural and spiritual significance, and young aboriginals still go up to the mountain with their elders to learn and participate in the rituals. 
The hike up the mountain was the most grueling hike I have ever been on.  It was basically 800 m straight up; it was challenging, as I think I am a little out of shape, and I had to take some breaks on the way up.  I did snap some great photos, though, as we ascended.