Friday, June 29, 2007


There is a glut of pictures in this post. I actually took over 60 (yikes!), so this is quite reasonable really. I was in Brisbane this last week for about 48 hours for the Strategy Day and the National President's Forum. It was fantastic! I was a bit disappointed by the weather though. Brisbane is north of Canberra on the coast, and everyone kept telling me how lucky I was to get out of cold Canberra to tropical Brisbane. Of course, the Tuesday we arrived it was the coldest day Brisbane has had in years! It was a couple degrees warmer than Canberra though, so I really can't complain.

Both pictures of Brisbane are taken from my hotel balcony. The other intern Brooke and I did get to walk around the city a bit in the evenings, but I didn't take any pictures on the street. It was a very trendy, youthful city from what I saw though. Lots of shopping, restaurants, clubs and pubs (much like the city centre of any large city.)

Brisbane's nick name is "Brisvegas." Having been to the real Las Vegas, it wasn't very similar. No slot machines, no posters advertising adult shows everywhere, no constant smell of cigaretttes. It was very commercial though, with lots of lights. Rather nicer than Vegas, I would say!

This is Brooke and I taking minutes during Strategy Day. It was the meeting of the AIIA's National Executive Board to plan the next year's agenda. I thought it would be the boring day, but I ended up being fascinated by the discussion. I really enjoyed learning how a not-for-profit runs, how they're trying to develop the organization, etc. They have so many exciting plans, and I wish I was staying longer to see them come to fruition?

Here you can see the Board, with an Australian flag hanging on the wall. The Board members are all very distinguished people. There are a couple former career diplomats, a few academics, and other interesting backgrounds. One former professor is now a consultant to foreign governments. He helped Chile negotiate a free trade agreement with China, advises South Korea on reunification, and China on its food safety problems. (I was seated next to him at dinner that night, and I had a fascinating conversation with him. We also talked about possible candidate for the US Presidency! It's amazing how well informed many people, especially at my work, are about US politics.)

We had dinner that night at a very nice venue in downtown Brisbane. The participants of Strategy Day and the National President's Forum were there. This is an Indonesian harpist who played background music for us. The theme the National President's Forum was "Indonesia: From Neighbour to Partner?"

Seated at this table, left to right, are: the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, the AIIA's President (who was so lovely!), a woman I can't remember (!), and the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament (Brisbane is in the state of Queensland.) I was seated next to the Speaker, who was also fantastically interesting to talk to.

Here's me! Typing away, as per usual, during the National President's Forum.

This is the meeting room for the Forum. It took place in Queensland Parliament House, which was gorgeous.

Here's a picture from the courtyard. You can see from the bright green flora that it's a much different climate than Canberra.

After the Forum, we went out to eat at an Indonesian restaurant with the people who weren't flying out that night. It was a very nice dinner, much more relaxed than the Forum and previous night's dinner. I got to talk for a while to a couple of the Indonesian participants who were super nice. They helped me steer clear from the really spicy dishes! (The food was fantastic - I'm going to have to find some Indonesian restaurants in the US.)

Here's the President again, with my boss in white and an Indonesian professor in green. My boss's name is also Melissa, and the President once addressed an email to the two of us as "Melissae," which would be the Latin plural if Melissa were a Latin (1st feminine) noun. I loved it!

Yesterday we fly out of Brisbane at 6am (ick!), went straight to work, and then after work I went straight to pottery class! It's been a very full week. Another intern from the Netherlands arrived yesterday also though, and I'm very excited. She's really nice, and we have already had a lot of interesting conversations about differences between Aussie, American, and Dutch politics, universities, lifestyles, attitudes, etc. We're going to get along great, and I won't have to work alone in the office anymore!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Compare and Contrast II

Alright, the picture below is purely gratuitous. It's a view of the city from the top of Mt. Ainsley that I didn't post in that blog entry. It has nothing to do with this entry, I just thought it was a good picture.

I actually didn't finish writing my previous entry about Australia, and how it differs from the US. I could probably write about it for quite a while!

One of the things that is the same is the obsession with celebrity news. The Paris Hilton saga was just as intensely followed in the media as (I assume) it was in the US. I was rather surprised. Sian asked me if I'd ever met Paris Hilton, and of course I said no.

Australia's relatively small population compared the US (20 million versus 300 million) does lend it a bit of a different feel. There aren't that many major cities, and there really aren't any mid-size cities. It tends to be either very urban, or very rural.

Also the same: Harry Potter following (thank goodness!) Sian and Caitlin both love Harry Potter as well, and both the book and the movie come out at the same time as they do in the US, which is not always the case, especially with movies.

A more sobering difference: Australia strikes me as having a less violent culture, at least in terms of guns. Australia has thankfully not experienced the school shooting phenomenon of the US, and private ownership of hand guns for protection is extremely rare. As the view of the US in Australia that comes out of our news, TV and movies is not always extremely positive, there is the perception that most Americans own a gun. Sian asked me if my family owned a gun, and I explained that we didn't, and that I didn't actually know may people who did.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Compare and Contrast

I've just been complimented on the number of pictures in my posts, and of course this post will be relatively light on pictures. When I was talking to my family this weekend, I realized that I haven't really been commenting much on what Australia is like, and how it is different from the US. Hence the very general nature of this post.

First of all, the British influence is a lot more noticeable that I thought it would be. I figured since both Australia and the States are former British colonies, we would have about the same amount of British influence. Quite wrong! Australia became an independent country in 1901, much later than the US, and to this day it's still a member of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is on all of their coins, and the Queen's representative, the Governor-General, has a residence in Canberra. He/she no longer has any actual governing power of course but does have a ceremonial role.

More about Australian money: the conversion rate is about 80 Australian cents on the dollar. Their sales tax, called the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is 10% and is already incorporated into the advertised price, which I like!

The British influence is very noticeable in the food. "Bangers and mash" (sausage and mashed potatoes,) crumpets, etc. (I intend to write an entire post about food. :)

One slightly related anecdote: I cannot, to save my life, tell the difference between an Australia, British, and Kiwi (New Zealand) accent! I'm told they're quite distinct, but I just don't hear it!

Above is a picture of one of my host family's cars. Cars are one of the more noticeable differences between Australia and the US. Little coup hatchbacks like this are extremely popular. I don't see many big cars at all. There are a few minivans and SUVs, but even those are mid-size. I haven't seen even one Suburban/Expedition size of personal vehicle. With gas prices so high though, it would be extremely hard to justify a large gas-guzzler. Gas (or petrol, as Aussies would say) is about $1.36 per litre, which I think comes out to roughly $4/gal. Australians, or at least Canberrans, are also very environmentally conscious.

Guess which one is for trash and which one is for recycling?

This is Old Parliament House again. I visited it this weekend; if you look carefully, I'm the small figure on the right. It was really interesting. They had an exhibit on the Great Depression, and the experiences seemed very similar to those of most people in the US. In terms of politics, Australia is a parliamentary system, pretty different from the US. (For more detail, I'd recommend wikipedia.) Their Prime Minister is John Howard, who has had a close relationship with George W. Bush.

Though Australia also has troops serving in Iraq, oddly enough the war is not very controversial here. There are a couple main reasons why:

First of all, Australia has very few troops serving in Iraq, and they haven't suffered even one causality.

Second, Australia didn't go into Iraq with the goal of ousting Saddam Housein, spreading democracy, or any of the reasons the US did. Australia supported the War in Iraq because it was holding up its end of the ANZUS treaty. This defensive treaty, signed in 1951, promises the United States' defense of Australia (and New Zealand) if necessary. Australia sent troops to Iraq to hold up its end of the alliance.

(This is just the beautiful view from the step of Old Parliament House.) Also at the Old Parliament House is housed the National Portrait Gallery, which is an art gallery that showcases portraits of Australians. There was also an exhibit about Australia's "creative diaspora." Australia has the problem of losing much of its creative individuals (artists, actors, directors, musicians, etc.) to places like New York, LA, Paris, and London. There just aren't the jobs (or demand) for their talent in Australia.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Last Sunday my host family took me to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. It was a great day! The park was beautiful, I got to see lots of animals, and we had a lot of fun.

Above is the recreation area where we had our picnic lunch. There were a lot of other families there. It's popular pretty much year round.

Here's Dafydd barbecuing some snags (sausages) for our lunch. The Reservce provides grills for anyone to use.

Here's the family with all of our picnic gear. I've realized that I need to hand over photography duty to one of the girls sometime, so I can be in a few pictures!

Caitlin and Sian are at the top of the spider's web (part of a play area( and Toni is sitting below them a few rungs. I climbed about half-way up, but then got down to take the picture.

Alright, here's what everyone wanted to see: kangaroos! I wasn't actually this close; I cropped the picture to make the kangaroo easier to see.

I didn't see any of these in the Reserve, but Caitlin is standing next to stuffed versions of a wombat (on the left) and an echidna (an odd egg-laying mammal, much like the platypus, which I didn't see either.)

The scenery was incredibly beautiful. Mountains in the background, and bush everywhere. it reminded me a bit of Grayson Highlands in Virginia.

Here are some emus. This picture didn't require any cropping or zooming, as we were able to et quite close. (They're not actually the most attractive birds.)

Another beautiful view.

Black swans with very striking red heads. Another animal we got quite close to.

I couldn't resist: another picture of the view.

More to come later! I think I need to post about some of the differences between Australia and the U.S. And the food: I promise I will tell everyone what I think of Vegemite. (The suspense is terrible, I know!)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Australia National Museum

Toni and the girls took me to Australia National Museum. It was fantastic - there were lots of great exhibits. Even the outside was fascinating, as you can see below. That's not actually that great of a picture - it's hard to capture the full view.

Everything about the museum looks very modern; the museum was only built in the last decade.

This is Sian climbing down from one of the interactive exhibits. There were different houses from different areas of Australia.

This is a Holden: the first Australian car.

There are different post office boxes from throughout Australia's history. They are still red today, a British legacy.

Here are the girls in the play area. They didn't stay still for very long!

I learned lots of new Aussie slang at the museum (they had an exhibit about it.) "Fair dinkum" means a fair deal, "snags" are sausages, and "bonzer" means great, among many other things.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Cook's tour of Canberra

"Captian Cook" is a slang phrase for a look; hence, my host mum called our quick tour of Canberra a "Cook's tour." I've been learning lots of fun Australian slang, but I can never seem to remember it when I'm writing a blog post.

Above is a picture of New Parliament House from the car as we approached it. New Parliament House was only built in the last decade or two (I've already forgotten exactly when.) It's an extremely impressive, modern building.

This is a picture down the lawn from the New Parliament House. At the other end is Old Parliament House, itself a very elegant building.

This is a closer photo of New Parliament House. You can't see it in this picture, but the building is built cut into the side of a hill, so there are sloping lawns on either side. It's very grand, but my host mum says the bright green lawns are a bit controversial at a time when the drought is causing water restrictions, especially pertaining to watering one's lawn.

You can see the inside lobby of New Parliament House here (with my host mum and Caitlin's back.) There is lots of marble and wood, all of it Australian I believe.

On the front lawn of the Old Parliament Building (below) is a Aboriginal "embassy" - protest. The Aboriginal people have a lot of problems, much like the Native Americans on reservations in the US, but unlike the US, not all have relinquished claims of sovereignty over the land.

Old Parliament House is a beautiful building. It became too small to hold the Australian parliament, and it is used for events and functions now.

This is the War Memorial museum. It's supposed to be an incredible museum. I intend to go some weekend. (This weekend we went the the Australian National Museum. It was fantastic! I'm going to have to go back another day to see everything.)

This is a view of Canberra from Mt. Ainsley. Canberra is surrounded by the Brindabella Mountains. You can see the red boulevard running down the middle. Memorials line the path, and at the south end is the War Memorial, and across Lake Burley Griffin is a long white building, Old Parliament House, and just north of that is New Parliament House. Canberra is a planned city (designed by American architect Griffin.) It's location was chosen because it's approximately half way between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities. You can see why they call it the "bush capital."

You can see Lake Burley Griffin here - it's quite picturesque, with paths for biking and walking around the edge. Lake Burley Griffin is a man-made lake, as part of Griffin's design.

Here is Caitlin and Toni, my host mum. We're at Regatta Point, a little museum and cafe overlooking the lake.

(Completely unrelated story) Today I tried my first crumpet - it was very nice. Sort of a chewy, moist English muffin.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Home and Office

Warning! This post may fall under the category "things only a mother would be interested in." This is my bedroom. It's down the hall from the furnace, but right across from a vent from the fireplace.
This is the fireplace - it's a working fireplace, not just for the ambiance. Every evening when we all get home from work and school Dafydd will start a fire to heat up the house. It gets very warm in the living room! (And it smells wonderful.)

This is the house - you can see that the drought is what they call a Green Drought, meaning that there's been a small amount of rain, enough for grass to grow and the trees to sprout leaves, but barely making a dent in the dried up water reserves.

This is my work! Some days I'm the only person in the office (not in the whole building though, there are a lot of other businesses.)

This is my desk. Occasionally I get kicked out by the book-keeper, but otherwise I sit here most of the day.

Other interns work part time (as does my boss) so there is at least one other person there most days. Yesterday there were two other interns, and it was very nice. They're both university students as well. One is Australian, but the other is from Singapore. Funny story: A gentleman came in an hour early for a talk on East Timor yesterday. He was obviously blind: cane, sunglasses, etc. Husien (the intern from Singapore) guided him into our library to sit (holding his hand,) and the first thing he asked the gentleman was: "Would you like a book to read?"

From what we could here in the other room, the gentleman bluntly stated "No, I'm blind," and Husien made some sort of mumbling embarrassed reply. He looked rather sheepish when he came back in.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Here are my pictures of my host family in Canberra. They've been lovely! I'm so glad I decided to stay with a host family; I think I'd be very lonely living alone. My host family has gone out of their way to make me feel at home though. They've introduced me to Australian barbecue (lamb, not pork,) Vegemite (more on that later,) and all sorts of distinctly Australian experiences. Recently we watched The Castle, a classic Australian movie, or so I'm told. I highly recommend it - it was both sweet and hilarious. They've also been making sure I understand all the Aussie slang- and there's a lot of it! For example, if someone says they "stuffed it," they mean that they messed up. One of Dafydd's favorite expression is "Struth!" Which is roughly analogous to "Crikey!" :)

The picture are: Dafydd, my host dad, doing work; Toni, my host mom, sewing on Girl Scout patches and holding Gina the dog, Sian (prounounced Sean) on the computer, and Caitlin playing XBox - Ryan and Nick would feel right at home!

I apologize for the funny format - I'm still figuring out how to use the blog.