Sunday, February 24, 2008

Week 1 in Brisbane

Well here we are, 6 days into our Aussie adventure. We've managed to secure a place to live for ourselves (pics will follow shortly). We'll be living on a quiet street that isn't too far from "amenities" including a fruit stand and a laundromat. There is also a used book store just down the street from which we'll be stockpiling a new collection, and the bus stops close by allowing us to try our car-free urban-living experiment.

The majority of our interactions with people here so far have been with taxi drivers, who often ask us to direct them to our destination even though they have on-board GPS systems and we are fresh off the plane. Nevertheless, they are quite funny, and most have a son or daughter that has spent time in Canada, the most popular place being Whistler. I guess their disoriented nature is a function of the rapid growth that has occurred in this city over the past 20 years. In fact, we are told that those who grew up here partition time as pre- and post- expo, referring to Expo '88. Apparently the Expo was a major turning point for the growth of Brisbane as it moved from a country town to a cosmopolitan city. The ethnic diversity here is remarkable. I would say that of every 10 people we see on the street, only about five are of Caucasian heritage. Compare that with rural Maritime Canada where we grew up, where 9.9 of 10 people are descendants of French, Irish or Scottish settlers.

The other striking feature so far (besides the fruit to which Laura alluded) is the water situation. This is unlike anything either of us has ever experienced. The current level of the three dams that service the metropolitan area is 38% capacity. Apparently the levels were as low as 15% just a few weeks ago before the area received some rain as the tail end of cyclone activity (similar to the way eastern Canada gets tropical storm residuals every autumn). This water shortage has many clamouring for the government to take action by either a) diverting water from the Northern Territory and northern Queensland (where there is lots of water and few people) or b) moving the bulk of Australia's agricultural activity to the north. The group with whom I am working here at Griffith University has been assigned the task of determining the kinds of environmental changes that might occur in those areas should either option A or B come to pass. I'll be regularly updating the progress of the project and the water situation in general on this blog.

All told, Canada and Australia are not all that different. Both are former British colonies with weak links to the crown - at first glance I am tempted to say Australia's ties are stronger. If you read the papers here, you realize that national issues tend to be similar - concerns about the housing market, the effects of the weakening US economy, and the looming climate change crisis. With that said, there are plenty of minor cultural oddities, mainly language related, that Laura and I find funny. These include:

Burger King/Hungry Jack's
Walmart/The Big W
Happy Harry's/Crazy Clark's

I’ll add to this list in subsequent posts, as the number of slight differences in language seems endless.

Another distinction between the two countries is that malls here seem to be culturally more important than in Canada, largely because the air-conditioning makes them a popular destination on extremely hot days like the 36 degree scorcher we had yesterday. They even have carpeted floors in one of the major malls! We were in one on Sunday and it was packed with people. Finally, I should point out that the “cruck” or “trar” (the “original” hybrid) is surprisingly popular here. Somehow they don’t even seem out of place, you can picture them zooming across the outback with dust flying behind.

All for now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Getting started in Brissy

So…To make things easier, mainly for us, Tim and I have decided to start a blog to chronicle our crazy lives these days. This doesn’t mean we won’t be in touch personally, but it may make the time between personal contact with us, a little more informative for others. Today I’m writing (Laura). We’re going to try to alternate between writers to see who likes who better (I’m a chatty writer whereas Tim’s much more to the point). Maybe start up a poll to see how many votes each of us can get. Healthy competition makes Tim and Laura happy.

So, for those of you who may not know, Tim and I just moved to Brisbane, Australia. And to back it up even further, Tim and I are married…We tied the knot last December after 2 years of me testing Tim’s sanity and cool-as-a-cucumber nature. His nature prevailed and I’m happy to say that we’re living out a very cool marriage (cool to us, maybe not so much to others). We met in the mercury lab if that’s any indication of how cool our marriage actually could be. So in the year following a small wedding, I finished up a M.Sc. degree and Tim has mostly wrapped up his Ph.D., both in ecology related fields. In Spring of 2007 an opportunity arose where a post-doc position opened up for Tim here in Brisbane, Australia. Tim was asked to take it on by a supervisor at Griffith University, and we decided that we’d like to take on the challenge of moving across the planet, taking on new jobs and building new lives on another continent…and Tim finishing up his current degree about 2 years ahead of schedule. So we made our plans. If our plans weren’t grand enough, we found out 2 months before we left that we had a bun in the oven. And that brings us to now.

So prior to leaving, we had a great time with so many of our friends…Moving away really makes you appreciate everyone you know so much more. It was sad, but nice to have the opportunity to hang out together for that one last time. I had the hardest time saying goodbye to my family. We’re all pretty close and it’s just hard for me to know that they aren’t just a drive away, or a close flight even. And then there are the fun pregnancy hormones that make me tear up even at such trivial things as news broadcasts about “local man saves puppy from manhole”. Anyway, the goodbyes were more fun than sad, we appreciated the time.

We arrived in Vancouver on Feb 14th, and stayed with Tim’s brother Jason, who also acted as our escort. We got to see some more friends there and generally had an excellent time, got up to Whistler, hung out in Granville Island, ate a lot. I found adjusting to the time change a bit more challenging with being nearly 3 months pregnant…My body wanted to eat at 3 in the morning and responded quite badly to food in general. I tell my friends that it only looks like I’m pregnant because all food makes me bloated. I can’t wait until people can tell that I didn’t just eat too much lunch, I’m actually pregnant. That time will come soon enough I guess.

We left Vancouver on the 17th late in the afternoon, after having to unpack our luggage at the airport and leave stuff behind due to the weight restrictions on Air Pacific (Fiji’s international airline- small planes, not a lot of bells and whistles but they get the job done). Getting rid of stuff was trying in itself, but I guess I really didn’t need that Experiments in Ecology textbook. Next time I’ll know better.

So we flew to Hawaii and stopped there in the middle of the night for 2 hours, got back on the plane and flew to Fiji where we actually had a 6 hour layover, so had the opportunity to get out a bit. After landing in Fiji we decided that we’d like to eat breakfast at a local restaurant. Once we got outside of the airport a cab driver named Ham offered us a ride in his cab to a breakfast place and a tour of the sites of Fiji along the way. I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly comfortable getting into a cab in a foreign country without knowing where we were going or when we would return “10 minutes, just 10 minutes” Ham told us. We had 6 hours so we took our chances, and our tourguide seemed nice at least. Ham gave us a guided tour of Fiji (from the airport to the restaurant about 30km away). He was great and Fiji is BEAUTIFUL. So lush and green. We definitely have to get back there. The restaurant was on the water and we had a chance to look for tropical fishes while waiting for breakfast. Ham, in the meantime, was waiting for us at the bar, which made me kind of nervous. He was a nice guy but we had no idea how long we would be or what it was going to cost us to have him waiting for us...Or what he was doing at the bar. So as lovely as it all was, we had it in our minds to get back to the airport. In the end it didn’t break our very small bank and we were out for over an hour, so we found it very worth our time. The Fijian airport is also something to see. For such a small island it’s huge AND it has leather couches to recline in while we waited to get our tickets. Pearson could learn a few lessons.

We left Fiji for Brisbane on the last 4 hours of flying on our journey. After having flown for 12 hours from Vancouver through Fiji, 4 seemed like a breeze. We were elated to have no problems getting through customs and to find that all of our bags made it almost safely. I was a little embarrassed to see that hanging out of the top of Tim’s backpack was my undies bag, thankfully I didn't lose any. At least everything we packed made it there in one piece, it could have been much, much worse.

So we got our first taste of Aussie traffic driving from the airport to our motel…I’ll just say it’ll be a long time before we’re driving in this city. Maybe we’ll get more used to it but even when we’re walking I tend to look in the wrong direction for traffic and such (they’re driving on the opposite side of the road here). Tim’s pulled me off the road in a few instances.

So the first thing that really hit us is the abundance of amazing fruit. Seriously, I’m in a pregnant lady’s heaven. We’ve been here for the equivalent of almost 2 days and gone through a cantelope bigger than my head, and bananas, apples, blueberries…and mangoes so sweet you don’t even have to chew, they literally just melt away on your tongue. I can’t express how good it all is (although Canada does have better blueberries). And fresh and local vegetables coming out of our ears. I’m glad that I didn’t know how good it could be when we lived in Canada (in terms of fresh, ripe, local fruit). In the absence of friends (we haven’t met with Tim’s lab yet), fresh produce is keeping us happy. Friends and produce is definitely something to look forward to.

So we started apartment hunting yesterday and were pretty impressed with one place. Not so impressed with another. We have lots more to look at today but I’m kind of bent on the first house we looked at (it’s big and has a big yard). Most houses here are on stilts and it’s very weird to be able to see daylight through floorboards after living in cold Canada for so long. One big thing to get used to here is bugs. They never really creeped me out in Canada, but the spiders we’ve seen here already look pretty intimidating (i.e. huge!) and I saw my first cockroach last night…And it seems that ants are everywhere. It’s not like bugs are local to badly managed placed either, so I guess it’s just something to get used to. Another thing to get used to here is the water shortage. There’s a little timer in our shower so that we take showers that are only 4 minutes. Tim shaved his hair off (see picture) so he’s quite literally out in 2 minutes or less. I’ve done it in under 4 but it’s a rush and much less enjoyable than the 15 minute showers I loved in Canada. There are a lot more ways to get refreshed here than just showers (like pools everywhere), so I can get used to the shortened showers.

Anyway…These are just a few things that we’re experiencing here. Tim will keep you posted with the next entry in a week or so.

We miss you all…Once we have a place you’re all welcome to come and visit! It’s really not such a bad trip to make and the fruit itself is worth the flight! Love to everyone!

Oh ya! If anyone has the burning question of whether toilets really do flush in the opposite direction here, I couldn’t tell you. I realized when we first landed in Hawaii that I really never closely observed how toilets flush in North America, except that flushes are generally longer. One thing that I have observed is how much water is wasted in flushing toilets in Canada. Even in Vancouver I was happy to see toilets with the option of a half-flush or full-flush (does pee really warrant a full flush?). Every place since Vancouver has been the same. I certainly didn’t think about water use in Canada nearly as much as I do here…That’s probably a good thing.