Standing in the driveway, waving goodbye

Something I’ve noticed since we arrived is the propensity of just about everyone we come into contact with to stand in their driveway and wave goodbye until our car has not only left their driveway but left their street entirely. I know it’s not an Australian thing because I’ve spent many goodbyes on my own driveways waving until the person turned a corner or watched as family or friends stood on the stoop waving until I was away.

I have a feeling, though, that Dan equates this behaviour with the same type of feeling he gets at the end of a theatre or music performance when the audience rises en masse to give an ovation. Every time this happens, Dan looks to me and asks, “Are we doing this?” It could have been an amazing opera performance at Lincoln Center or an uncomfortable and awkward high school play I had dragged him to – no matter the quality, he always has to ask. Because he does not like doing it.

We had a conversation the other evening when someone had just left the house. He had made a bee-line back into the house as soon as their car doors closed. I, on the other hand, hesitated. I felt like I should stay out on the driveway and wave. I was torn; he was not.

He said, “It’s so uncomfortable for the people in the car. Maybe they want to futz with the radio or mirrors, maybe they want to adjust their seatbelt or roll down windows. When we stand in the driveway, they feel like they need to slam the car into gear and get out of there as fast as they can. I figure I should give them their space.”

I, on the other hand, have no problem standing in the driveway while someone consults a map or tries to find her sunglasses. Perhaps that does make the person feel rushed. I’m just not sure what to do here.

-C

Monday Trip to Noosa

Heading up to Noosa was definitely the best way to spend the day before the semester started.  The beach was perfect, the ocean was chilly, and the quiet was lovely.

-C

A Two Doona Night

I have to keep reminding myself it’s winter here because this truly is “The Sunshine State” (sorry, Florida, but Queensland has appropriated the title for herself, and she’s doing a pretty good job with it). We’ve been here for nearly 60 days and I could count the number of rainy or cloudy or terrible days on one hand, and those days weren’t even that terrible.  It may have rained briefly or been cloudy or been around 17 degrees (64 degrees for you Fahrenheit people), but those things are pretty trivial in comparison to the images of my last winter in Iowa.  Here’s a picture for comparison:

IMG_1125I took this picture on my drive home from work one day. It was bitterly cold, windy, and gloomy. I think the roads were icy, as well.

Now take a look at a picture of what was probably the gloomiest, coldest day from my Australian winter:

Moffat Beach

Moffat Beach

That day was cold (I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a jumper – I may even have worn socks!), but gone are the days of winter coats, snow, slush, ice, driving through snow and slush and ice, mittens, and scarves.

I am kind of sad about that, really. I like winter in the upper midwest. I like snow (and snow days). I like hoar-frost and icicles and brisk weather. And not just the viewing it from the comforts of a climate controlled home.

If it’s any consolation, the last couple nights have been downright chilly. I’ve spent my days in shorts and t-shirts only to being piling on the layers once the sun sets. I add socks, then slippers, then change into jeans, then add a jumper and sometimes  scarf.  When I head for bed, I heat up a rice bag, wrap a blanket around my shoulders, pull the doona up, and attempt to read for a bit.

Last night, however, I couldn’t handle the cold. I had my rice bag, blanket, sweat pants, and doona tucked around me but it wasn’t enough. After a couple of minutes, I had to go into the other bedroom, grab the single doona off the bed, and add it to mine. It was definitely a two doona night.  I find this particularly amusing when I consider that all of my friends and family have probably been cranking up the air con and trying to stay cool. Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be complaining about the weather much more when summer comes in December and I’m trying to celebrate Christmas in the heat and humidity.

-C

Monday Trip to Burleigh Head

I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the Gold Coast.  It reminds me of places like Myrtle Beach or The Dells – business owners clutter the skyline with big hotels, theme parks, restaurants, and shops and hide the natural beauty of the place. Gold Coast has sky scraping condos and hotels overlooking the beaches. These condos and hotels create their own shadowy footprint. And in that footprint, you will find shops selling surfboards, souvenirs, and food. Tourists manage to find parking and walk from shop to shop until they arrive at the beach. The entire coastline is beach and absolutely beautiful.

Our trip avoided all of the clutter of the cities and focused on Burleigh Head National Park, which is just south of Gold Coast. We walked, we hiked, and we appreciated the view.

-C

A series of waiting rooms

On Tuesday we headed to the city for our medical exams, just one of the requirements for our visa.  I had scheduled the appointment online through the service the government contracts with and had been provided with a list of things to bring: passports, glasses/contacts, form 26, form 160, the confirmation letter, the immigration referral letter, our receipt. Government (specifically immigration) stuff makes me anxious. I’m never quite sure what these forms are asking or how I should respond. It’s like doing taxes.  But I had all the forms filled out and ready. The plan was to head into the city late enough to avoid peak travel on the train and early enough to grab lunch and relax in the park or explore for an hour before the appointment. We left the house at 10:45am.

Waiting Room #1: The Train
We caught the 11:13 train from Petrie Station and enjoyed a quiet 45 minute ride into the city to Central Station, which is nothing like Grand Central Station. There’s hardly any chaos; no one is really rushing about. The train lines are super simple to navigate, as well.  It was a great way to start the day.

Anzac Square Shrine

Anzac Square Shrine

Waiting Room #2: The Park
Lunch was simple: I had a ham and cheese croissant and a flat white while Dan had a coke and some sushi. We ate and then walked to Anzac Square to sit, read, and watch people. We managed to grab a spot in the shade.

Waiting Room #3: Take a Number, Please
Because I hate being late, we were 25 minutes early for our appointment, which turned out to be a good thing. We arrived around 1:20 and discovered a waiting room filled with a dozen or more people and two people conducting intake. We took our ticket and sat. I should probably mention that I had been avoiding going to the restroom since we had arrived in the city because I knew I would have to cheerfully hand over a urine sample at the appointment. This made waiting even better!

After 30 minutes of waiting, our number was called and it was our turn for intake. This began our appointment – and it truly was “our” appointment. We had to do everything together, which was fine, but as you’ll see somewhere around Waiting Room #8, it gets a little weird.  Our intake took maybe 20 minutes because there was one piece of information I needed to provide that had not been on the list, so we had to use my phone to access Dan’s email in order to figure out that one tiny detail we needed. I should also note that half of the things that I had been told to bring with us were not needed.

Waiting Room #4: Through the Glass
After we finished the intake, had our pictures taken (of course Dan tried to make me laugh for my picture), got our wristbands, and surrendered our passports, we were sent through the sliding glass door….to another waiting room. We were told to wait here until our names would be called. So we sat. Dan read, and I checked my email. Every couple of minutes a different nurse or doctor would come in and call someone’s name – badly mispronouncing each one. And every time someone returned to our waiting room to wait some more, the blue chair he or she would sit on would make a dry “pooooof” noise.  After a couple of hours of this, it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

Waiting Room #5: X-Ray
After 10-15 minutes our names were called, along with 4 other names, and we were all escorted to another waiting room to have our chest x-rays. The purpose is to check us for TB. We sat until our names were called again. I went first, so I had to go into a cubicle the size of a small changing room, strip down to the waist, remove all jewelry, put on thin blue gown, and wait until the radiologist opened the door.

A couple things about this.

First, when I entered the cubicle, I asked the girl who handed me the blue gown which way I should put it on – open at the front or open at the back – because, seriously, which way would you do it?  She seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t know which way to do it.

Second, I apparently need to exert control at all times. Ask my friend Kayla about the time I went to get my fingerprints taken and the guy told me to relax my fingers.  I couldn’t do it. He fought my finger muscles the whole time and had a hard time getting me to roll my fingers in the right direction.  The same thing happened during this part of the appointment. The technician told me to “face forward, put my head down, put my hands on my hips.” And apparently I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, so he grabbed my head and tried to push it down. My reaction was to stiffen my neck and fight him. Ridiculous. It made for a rather awkward 2 minutes. When that weirdness was over, I headed back to the waiting room…..to wait.

Waiting Room #6: Blood
I’ve had blood taken many times, but the woman who took our blood was quite possibly the most talented phlebotomist in the world. Smooth, not even a prick of pain, 2 seconds, and she was done. And we told her as much. And back to the waiting room.

Waiting Room #7: Pee in this Cup
Literally.  The woman who came and got us next handed us a regular disposable cup – like one you would keep next to the sink to rinse your mouth out with after brushing your teeth – and said, “Pee in this cup.”  So we went into our respective cubicle style bathrooms in the middle of a hallway and did it.  And let me tell you, at this point it was 2 hours or more since lunch and I could have filled up two of those cups.  I know, more than you really wanted to know. Then we had our height (in centimetres), weight (in kilograms), and blood pressure taken.  Imagine three of us (me, Dan, and the nurse) crammed in another cubicle, having to switch places and squeeze past each other. Weird.

Waiting Room #8: The Lady Gets the Table; the Man Gets the Chair
The final scene was probably the most awkward of them all. Before we were called in by the doctor, we wondered if we would be called in together since just about everything has been done that way. And we were. It was both strange and awkward.

We sat in the doctor’s office/exam room and proceeded to have 20 minutes of oddly relaxed conversation about Ekka, holiday trips we should take, Romanian Orthodox churches, and philosophy followed by a couple minutes of health questions (do you do drugs? have you ever had TB?), and then an exam.

I should mention that both of us were sitting in our underwear for about half of this appointment.

The doctor said, “Strip down to your underwear. The lady gets the table and the man gets the chair. You can wear this robe if you are uncomfortable sitting in your underwear the whole time.”

Dan, of course, said, “Well, we don’t mind sitting around in our underwear together, but adding a third party is a little weird.”

Waiting Room #9: The Train
So after a little over 2 1/2 hours at the medical exam, we headed back to the train and rehashed the hilarity of what we had just experienced. There were so many other little things that contributed to the complete strangeness of this experience, but I have a feeling that I’m probably the only one who thinks it’s funny.

We caught the train from Central Station during peak time, which meant it was a little crowded.  We ended up in a Quiet Carriage, which was fine until we picked up a mess of people leaving Ekka. They apparently don’t ride the train much, nor do they adhere to the rules of the train. They were quite loud and obnoxious, but every commuter gave them some leeway. I put my ear buds in and ended up missing the conversation (read: fight) one woman had with her significant other on her mobile about whether or not he would pick her up from the train station.  Classy.  We were home by 5pm.

It was a long day, kind of a blur, but strangely fun.  And I sincerely hope there’s no chance of a repeat visit any time soon.

-C

This is a picture I did not take

In the past week, I have encountered some of those things that people warned me about*, namely “things that could probably kill or mame” or “things that are bugs, lizards, and creepy flying things.”  And I have no pictures of any of these things because I didn’t stick around long enough or get close enough to take a picture.

Spiders
Normally I’m not all that bothered by spiders.  They might surprise me as they run across the floor or wall or ceiling, but I don’t think I’ve ever jumped back or uttered a noise when I’ve encountered one. Until this past week.  Here at the house, we have a rather large garden that is filled with palm trees, jade, and other native vegetation. It’s a full time job to keep up with the weeding. The other day, I decided to get out the hedge clippers and take a whack at some bushes at the base of one of the palm trees.  I cut for a while and gathered up the leaves. As I proceeded to begin my second round of cuts, I used the hedge trimmer to pull back some of the bush.  And this exposed a giant spider.  Although I have no witnesses to speak to the giant-ness of this spider, you have to believe me that this was quite possibly the biggest spider I have ever seen in real life. It was bigger than my palm (legs included), hairy, and fat.  I did not scream, but I did gasp and take a couple steps back. I tried to get Dan and show him the spider (because, of course, he didn’t really believe me when I said it was big) but it was gone.  After some research (Googling brown hairy spider Australia),I have a feeling it was an Orb Weaving Garden Spider. If you know what’s good for you, DO NOT Google anything to do with spiders or Australia especially before pulling back the covered and getting into bed….or heading out of weed the garden….or opening a drawer…..or going to the bathroom in the dark.

Lizards
I see probably 2 dozen lizards every day. When I walk out the front door, the geckos that live in the plants in the front of the house scatter. They don’t scare me. They sit on rocks in the bushes, make weird noises, and eat bugs. They are harmless. But the other day while hiking in D’Aguilar National Forest, we encountered a large lizard. I’ve done some research (Googling again), but I’m not sure what it was.  It was probably as long as my arm, fat, and black. It was in the grass and when we approached, it walked into the bushes.  I was happy to note that it didn’t run into the bushes.  Animals that run, even if they run away from me, can always change direction. (I have a ridiculous fear of animals that will run up my leg and attack my head – squirrels and birds are included here).

Bats
When I went to camp in 7th grade, a bat got in our cabin, which resulted in twenty 7th grade girls screaming and ducking. I’ve never liked bats (see the fear of things attacking my head mentioned above). When we lived in Minnesota, we had bats in our bedroom at 5am, bats swooping through the living room, and bats living in the walls squeaking and scratching. Yuck. Here, however, there are no bats in the house. The bats are outside eating fruit from the trees.  And they are huge. They can grow up to 2 metres in length (6.5 feet!!!!!). At night they hang from the trees in our yard and eat fruit and flowers. If you want to creep yourself out, do what I did and read these pages: Flying Foxes or Facts about bats and flying foxes.  Or just rewatch the parts of Indiana Jones where bats are involved. Or Google “videos of fruit bats flying.”

-C

*When you ask most Americans what they know about Australia, they will usually mention the following 1) Steve Irwin aka The Crocodile Hunter, 2) the loooooong flight, and 3) things that will kill you in Australia.  On a related note, Dan is reading Down Under by Bill Bryson right now, and it’s really quite good.  Check out an excerpt here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/24/billbryson