Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More photos

Here are some photos from my trip with Rowan to the Yungaburra markets on the Tablelands, then onto Kuranda and the Barron Gorge Falls.


And here are photos from the duathlon in Port Douglas
Port Douglas Duathlon

And finally, pictures from Nirav and Neha (Kellogg grads) farewell parties:
Nirav and Neha's farewells

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I participated in my first duathlon yesterday hosted by the ironmen. It was a nice relaxed race. No pre-registration. No timing chips. Only about ~25 competitors.

I scanned the competition and put them into 3 groups: 14 year old boys, ironmen, grandmas. I figured I'd try to hang with the grandmas. In the end I came in 1st in the international division, of which I was the only competitor. I finished ahead of only 1 14 year old boy and 1 grandma.

The race was a bit different than what I had expected. It was advertised as 3K run, 15K bike, 5K run. It turns out it was 3K run uphill to the lookout point for Port Douglas, an 18K bike, and a 7K run down the beach.

It was an incredibly beautiful race. On the drive up to Port Douglas (about an hour north of Cairns), I saw the sunrise over the ocean. Running along the beach, although difficult, was also amazing, just palms to my left and ocean to my right. And truly there's no better way to finish a race, then to kick off your sneakers and run out into the surf.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Australian accents

What do you reckon?

In my mind "reckon" had always been a bit of a country-bumpkin type of a word. But apparently here, it's a regular part of the vernacular. People reckon lots of things. Or rather people reckon heaps of things.

When discussing this with my Australian coworkers. I pointed out that I thought they used "reckon" in place of "think". They shrewdly made the point, that they have "think" and they use "reckon" instead. The point was made that reckon:think as sure:yes. It's a little less certain. Closest I can come up with is "guess" or "bet" but even these words have a slightly different meaning.

In the end, I like "reckon." I don't know that I can use it without sounding phony. But I like that it expresses a slight variation in meaning that Americans don't recognize.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pictures from Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge is located on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest about an hour's drive from Cairns. Traditionally land belonging to the Kuku Yalanji, there is a large effort underway to create a visitor center run by the indigenous community there. Definitely a place to visit again, and one of the few rivers you can swim in without risk of crocodiles.

Mossman Gorge and a few strays

Cairns Show

Regional cities across the country hosted their Show Days on Friday. The show is something akin to a county fair, which considering my passion for the Somerville Memorial Day Parade, I loved. There was livestock, a dog show, skydivers, tons of amusement park rides and games complete with Aussie Carnies, candy floss (i.e., cotton candy), dagwood dogs (i.e., corndogs), chips (i.e., fries), arts and crafts competitions, a wood chopping contest and booths advertising everything from politicians, to Jacuzzis, to churches, to dust mite removal products. But a key differentiator from the American fair is the show bag. They have huge booths selling various branded bags each including an assortment of goodies. They have Cadbery bags, Bratz bags, Carebears bags, Wiggles bags, and my personal favorite: the American Chopper bag.

Cairns Show

Out of my league

I got in touch with the Cairns Crocs Triathlon Team looking to meet some locals to train with. Maybe I should have known from the the list of training sessions for the weekend including: a Friday morning ride of 60K with 7.5K sprint sessions followed by a 14K run, a 100K Saturday morning ride followed by a swim, a brick Sunday morning followed by a 12K run. Maybe I should have known when I was told that of those the 100K was probably the most accessible. Maybe when they all had clippie shoes, or when they took off at 18mph for their long slow ride at 6am on a Saturday. But somehow it didn’t really hit me how far out of my league I was until about 15 miles in when I asked one of them what distance they were training for. Answer: Ironman. Stunned, I asked if they’d done one before. Answer: “I’ve done 4, but Darryn’s done 6.” I was training with Ironmen. Me, who’s done at most 25 miles on a bike in one sitting, was trying to keep up with people who are too hardcore to do just a marathon.

They were incredibly nice, though, despite the fact that I was holding them back. Two of them broke off from the pack to take “Young Laura” back on a 40K loop of their ride. And they offered to train with me anytime or get coffee or just hang out.

The ride itself was brilliant. We saw the sunrise over the beach. Cairns is relatively flat, being built almost entirely on mudflats, but it gets enough wind to make it challenging, even without hills.
Another 40K ride with the Ironmen next weekend? Definitely.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cultural experiences

I got an apartment! I will have internet in August! Yay.

I love that the license plates in Queensland let you know that you’re in “The Sunshine State.” This in a country that’s faced 7 years of drought, and a state that has regions which are typically flooded for 6 months of the year. It seems a little unfair. What about the NT?

I went shopping this last weekend for t-shirts with real sleeves. Maybe fashion in the states has changed significantly in the 3 weeks since I left, or maybe I was never very attuned to fashion there to begin with, but it seems here that every one is wearing jumpers (aka. pinafores in Australian) and smock-like dresses (some with pockets). I could not find polo shirts anywhere, only dresses for 6 year olds. The other thing that struck me was how similar each of the stores’ offerings were. I’m not sure if I’m just very well marketed to in the states and so I see differences in brands even when the products they offer are remarkably the same, but it really did seem like I saw the same yellow jumper with big buttons in at least 4 stores.

Australian shopping has far exceeded my expectations in terms of swimwear though. So many styles – most of them sold as separates with lots of different styles of tops and bottoms. And tops in bra sizes! I guess when there’s beach availability all year round, you have impetus to innovate.

I have yet to figure out union rugby versus league rugby versus footy versus AFL versus soccer, but I have picked up on the team names. Some of them familiar: Eagles, Warriors. Some less so: wallabies, crows. Some completely un-American: Bunnies, Swans. Maybe they’re mean bunnies, but really, bunnies?

Speaking of un-American, I got a car. Well, it’s a shared car with one of the regional orgs, but it seems to be mostly mine. It’s a distinctly un-American car. No American would have put 4 doors on such a small car. Cairns is not a walking city. Not that it’s that big, it’s just that it doesn’t have sidewalks. The sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner to provide, so in many places, you’ll have several houses of sidewalks then just a grassy path. So, I’m happy to have a car even though it has no power steering. The driver’s seat is broken, so I can only barely reach the clutch. But, it’s a car, and with its perks, it’s not that popular with the rest of the office. We call it, lovingly, the green ant after the green ants we licked in Cooktown.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking the piss

One of the great joys of being a stranger in a strange land is convincing Australians of ridiculous American cultural quirks. For instance, my team and I convinced one of our co-workers that all American women work out in leotards. It's very fashionable, and we each brought at least one with us. Somehow she believed us, despite our inability to keep straight faces.

As such, here is the picture I sent them of the team in their leotards.

PS. My Aussie friend actually didn't draw the conclusion from the photo that we were joking. Only once one of us went running with her and was not wearing a leotard did she finally get the joke.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Living in the tropics

It surprising how familiar and American things feel here. Every now and then something will catch you off-guard and remind you that you are living in a foreign country.

For instance, I was looking at some locally produced yogurt in the super market the other day. It looked lovely, but yogurt can be deceptively caloric. So, I went to look at the breakdown of calories. It contained 408 kJ of energy. At that I decided, it just wasn't worth looking at the labels any more. I'm already converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilograms to pounds and kilometres to miles. I can't keep another conversion factor in my head. Plus, I asked google and it delightfully told me that my yogurt had over 120K calories in it. And I'm still hungry.

I'm not fully accustomed to living in the tropics yet. I don't have glass in my windows, just shutters. There are bugs everywhere. My desk at work has tiny flies and spiders, I keep all of my food in the refrigerator because there are ants in the kitchen. To my surprise, I haven't seen the big scary bugs that could kill me, it's the little ones that are bothersome.

Last night I went with my team members for Mexican. And we asked the waiter if the beans had meat in them. He said it was the most ridiculous question he had ever heard. Who doesn't have pork in their beans?

Oh, and I'm very glad I brought my sweaters, it's been getting down to ~60 at night. One prediction unfulfilled.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Great Barrier Reef

Sonia and I went to the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday. We took a tour that drove us South of Cairns to the Mulgrave River. From there we took a river cruise out to the ocean and onto the Frankland Islands chain (Normanby Island to be specific). The big perk of this tour was that you could walk-in from the island to snorkel, head back to solid land for lunch and to sun. I took the guided tour of the reef. I saw parrot fish, flounder, striped and neon damsels, angel fish, needle-nosed fish, long-beaked fish, cleaner fish and disco fish*. And giant clams (which were much bigger than the picture of the giant clam shell and some were nearly 200 years old). And a sea turtle. I also saw boulder coral, spaghetti coral, brain coral, blue-tipped coral and liver coral*. It was beautiful, but still didn’t live up to the memory of snorkeling in the Bahamas. I think the tide has a lot to do with how clear the water is, and feeding the fish has a lot to do with how many fish you see. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the snorkeling, it was just an area that wasn’t quite as active as I had hoped for being renowned as the best snorkeling and scuba in the world.

They also have a semi-submersible boat that they take you on to see other areas of coral. From there we saw manta ray that was about 2m across.

I would recommend it to those who are new to snorkeling, but I think if I’m going to go out again, I’ll go with a smaller company and deeper water.

*: some names made up.

Great Barrier Reef

Friday, July 06, 2007

Driving on the left

Driving on the left is not as difficult as I had imagined it would be. In fact after spending two days driving an enormous landcruiser, I think I'm even getting the lane placement ok. It's the little things. The rearview mirror, I almost never use. I always turn to my right to reverse the car. And, I thought I had finally gotten used to the turn signal being on the left, when I got a different car today from work and its turn signal is on the right. Gah.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The World Will Never Know

Probably the most popular question besides my job that I got about moving to Australia was “Do toilets flush the other way south of the equator?” Australians are much more eco-conscious as a culture than Americans. There are hybrid taxis, the landlord admonished me to turn out all my lights and fans before leaving the apartment in the morning, and a 7 year drought has required people to conserve water throughout the country.

One of the water conservation efforts is that modern toilets have two flushers one that uses less water than the other. I haven’t been able to tell a discernable difference between the two because they both seem to just pour water straight down the drain, there’s no swirling; it’s more like a waterfall. So where does that leave the second most popular question? I guess the world will never know.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I flew into Cairns yesterday. The flight is only about 2.5 hours from Sydney, but it’s amazing how much the landscape changes during that time. From red-roofed suburbs, to yellow and purple farming plains, to lush green mountains and mossy rolling hills, finally out over the bright blue reef. Cairns feels a lot like Maui to me: tropical weather, beautiful coast with mountains looming to the west, every corner has a tourist agency, big hotels and small cinder block houses, tons of backpackers, it even has a big mall with a target in it.

I checked into my modest apartment which is situated in North Cairns. My apartment is sweet and seems to be family-owned and operated. The owner has offered to reassemble my bike for me as he’s “a bit of a cyclist” himself. But the apartment lacks a few things that I think are necessary for the stay. First, drawers – there’s a closet with 10 hangers, but nowhere to put things that don’t hang. Second, guest space – unless people want to share the bed with me or sleep on the floor, the rattan loveseat is probably not going to make them comfortable. Finally, internet – which I’ve decided, since it’s my best connection to back home, I need in my apartment.

For the first time in the trip, I felt truly lonely. In a town where I don’t know anyone, in an empty apartment, on a Sunday afternoon when everything was closed and no one seemed to be out. I decided to walk into town. The most singularly amazing feature of Cairns is the new boardwalk area. It runs a couple of miles down the coast of the CBD (central business district = downtown). The coast line is salt flats not beaches. Cairns is situated where the Hodgkinson River meets the Pacific for easy shipping of the sugar crops it was founded for. It wasn’t til 1984 when the airport was built that it became a major tourist destination for the reef. The boardwalk goes from the harbor all the way up to North Cairns and includes both a pedestrian and a bike path with trees, grass, a large swimming lagoon, monuments and memorials. And this is where everyone from Cairns is on a Sunday afternoon. Most shops close between 4pm and 6pm if there were open at all on Sunday, so the rest of the town has a ghost town feel to it, but the boardwalk was teeming with people which put me at ease.


I spent 3 more days in Sydney. The first two I worked out of the BCG office there (which has incredible views of the entire city). I’ve found Sydneysiders to be incomparably welcoming and friendly.

I went to see an adaptation of the Sun Zsu’s “The Art of War” with some other BCGers. The play was well done, though a little overwrought. It mixed cast members reading from the book in unison with a story of corporate warfare and a commentary on the Iraq war. It was interesting to have another country criticize a war that my country is fighting. Not that I disagreed with their points just makes you feel a little uneasy as an American on foreign soil. And the American accents sounded funny.

I spent the day Saturday with friends Nick and Henock, took the ferry out to Manly beach. The weather was nice, probably mid-60s, so there were a few people sun-bathing and a bunch of people surfing. The water was definitely warmer than Boston water and probably warmer than the south coast of the cape. Finally, I saw the musical adaptation of the “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” which was totally fantastic. The costumes really stole the show, right up to the finale when every cast member was dressed as some Australian flora or fauna.

Sydney Day 4

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Going private

I haven’t really posted about my trip so far because I’ve had trouble deciding what is ok to post here. I had initially thought that keeping the posts restricted to my travel and not about my work would keep it kosher. But I am a bit concerned that I am new to the culture both in Australia and in particular here in the FNQ (Far North Queensland), so I may not have a good understanding of what is innocuous and what is inappropriate.

After discussing with my predecessor, I’ve decided to take the blog private, which will require you to have an account with google and be invited to view it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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