Archive | June, 2011

Sawadee kha from Thailand!

27 Jun

That means hello in Thai, but you probably picked up on that.  I apologize for taking so long to post this update… I’ve been pretty busy with dive courses since I got here, but more on that later.

I absolutely love it here.  I could never see myself living in Townsville, but I could for sure live here.  For those of you who don’t know, “here” is Koh Lanta Yai, Thailand.  Koh means island and yai means big, so this is Big Lanta Island.  There’s also a Koh Lanta Noi (Little Lanta Island) but there’s not much there so people generally just refer to Koh Lanta Yai as Koh Lanta.  The island is fairly undeveloped and is very dependent on the tourism industry- so much so that each year here is composed of a “high season” and a “low season.”  During the high season, Koh Lanta is crawling with tourists.  People come to dive, snorkel, get Thai massages, go elephant trekking, and enjoy the tropical island lifestyle when every day is sunny and beautiful.  Right now, it’s the low season.  About 75% of the restaurants, stores, etc. on the island are closed and it’s been cloudy and windy most days.  I love it.  I am very, very glad that we’re here during the low season.  Everything is quiet and slow, and as one of the few farangs (Westerners) on the island, I feel kind of like a novelty rather than just another tourist.  I prefer that.  I think we’ve been able to experience a bit more of the culture than we would have during the high season.  Also, (some) people like restaurant/shop/fruit stand owners seem very excited to serve us- I’m sure they’re happy for the business during this slow time- which means great service, deals, and bonus items.

Sophie (my Australian friend) and I are staying at a lovely resort called Kaw Kwang Beach Resort.  We got a private two-person bungalow for the steep price of 650 baht per night… about $22 American.  We’re still not sure if this is per person or per room because we’ve been here seven nights and still have yet to actually pay them anything, but either way it’s pretty sweet.  The staff have been very nice and the resort is absolutely beautiful, so if you ever find yourself on Koh Lanta I highly recommend it.  Here are some photos.

Speaking of things being cheap in Thailand, for lunch/dinner and a drink I pay on average about 100-150 baht, which comes out to somewhere between $3 and $5.  And this isn’t shitty food… we’re talking delicious Thai dishes: curry, fried rice, noodle soup, etc.  I’ve been getting seafood in all of mine since I’m still not eating meat, so I’ve pretty much been eating amazing Thai food with fresh squid, crab, and fish for under $5 a meal.  Like I said, I could live here.

I’ve taken about 550 photos so far but the wifi at the resort is kind of slow and it takes forever to upload pics, so here are the ones that I like the best/that I think best exemplify Koh Lanta.  If we’re friends on Facebook you can check out some more on my profile when I upload them in a day or two, and if we’re friends in real life then you can ask me when I get back and I’ll show you the rest on my laptop.  Otherwise, these’ll have to do:

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I have heaps more photos from diving that I’ll post soon… my next post will be about the dive courses we’ve done and the cool stuff we’ve seen underwater (like leopard sharks!) so check back in a few days for that.  Thanks for reading!

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15 things that I will miss about Australia

18 Jun

I am literally counting down the hours until I leave Australia.  I keep doing mundane things and thinking “That’s the last time I’ll sleep in my bed.  That’s the last time I’ll make coffee in my kitchen.  That’s the last time I’ll sit on the patio.”  It’s weird.  To go along with my previous post and end my Australia posts on a more positive note, here are a few things that I will really miss about this country:

1. The coffee.  I can’t explain why, but it’s so much better than coffee in the States.  Part of it is that they don’t have shitty drip coffee (they call it percolated here) so pretty much everyone drinks espresso.  But the espresso drinks are better too… I really can’t explain it.  Jenny understands.

2. Scones with jam & cream.  I’m obsessed.  I know that I could get these in Britain (which is where they originate) but they will forever remind me of Australia.

3. Sweet Thai chili sauce.

4. Uni Club!  This is the bar on campus and I will miss it with all of my heart.  I went last night for the last time ever… it was a bittersweet night out.

5. Australian money.  It’s just so colorful!  Plus, it’s waterproof and is impossible to tear.  What’s not to like?

6. Australian wine.  Wine from New Zealand too, for that matter.  There are some awesome wines produced in this part of the globe that are difficult to find back home.  Since I’ve pretty much become a wino during my time here, I will miss these a lot.

7. Magnetic Island/Maggie.  I love it over there!  I’m going to miss that much more than Townsville itself, I think.

8. Scrub turkeys.  They’re stupid and kind of annoying, but I will really miss their antics.

9. Eating breakfast on my patio.

10. Seeing wild kangaroos, wallabies, and kookaburras every day.  There have been SO many kangaroos out lately- I like to think they’re all coming out of the bush to say goodbye to me.

11. Cheap Tuesdays at Cactus Saloon.  Even though drinks will be cheaper on a normal night back home, $3 Coronas at Cactus will always hold a place in my heart.

12. Cooking with Erin.  Thank goodness we live 15 minutes away from each other back home.

13. The weather!  Even though I complain about how cold it gets at night here, it’s nothing compared to back home.  I’ll miss the tropics.

14. Australians.  Though I try to avoid making generalizations about large groups of people, I’ll make one now; Australians are (usually) friendly and funny and I love them.

15. All of the friends I’ve made here.  I guess this goes without saying, but I wanted to include it because it’s important.  I’ve met some amazing people and while I’d like to think that I’ll one day see all of them again, I know the reality is that I probably won’t.  It’s been strange, saying goodbye to people knowing that it’s likely to be the last time we ever see each other.  You never know, though!  I already have tentative plans for Jenny to come stay with me in Charlottesville and we’ve talked about doing a road trip up north to visit some other Study Australia kids.  I’m lucky that most of the good friends I’ve made live back home in the states. 🙂

So this is it, the end of my time in Australia.  It feels like I just got here last week.  That’s not to say that I’m not ready to leave though; I really feel that even though I’ve had an amazing time here and regret nothing (well, almost nothing), it’s time for me to move on.  It’s been great- I’ll never forget the people I’ve met or the good times I’ve had- but all good things must come to an end… and now it’s the end.  I’m ready for Thailand and New Zealand, and I’m beyond ready to go home.  I’ll be bringing my laptop with me on my travels, so while I can’t say when my next post will be, rest assured that I will be updating you all along the way.  I’d say check back early next week to hear about Thailand.  Have a great weekend, and to any of my study abroad friends reading this: thanks for making this an incredible experience!

THAILAND, HERE I COME.

10 things that I won’t miss about Australia

17 Jun

I took my last exam yesterday and am officially done with school in Australia!  I am now faced with the daunting task of somehow fitting everything I own into two suitcases.  As always, I will procrastinate by watching internet tv and writing blog posts until I realize that there are only a few hours left until I have to be on a plane to Thailand, at which point I will hurriedly throw everything into my bags, thus managing to stress myself and do a terrible packing job.  (I know myself pretty well.)

As my time here winds down I’ve been thinking a lot about what I will and will not miss about the land down under.  Here are some things that I most definitely will NOT miss:

1. Townsville’s public transportation system.  I think I’ve complained about it enough for you guys to understand why this made the list… the buses here are slow, unreliable, and apparently follow no actual schedule.

2. Ridiculously expensive alcohol.  I hope to never again pay $7.50 for a Corona.  Seriously, I can’t wait to return to the land of power hours and 25 cent beer nights.

3. Curlews.  They’re everywhere here on campus.  They’re loud, creepy looking, and they totally freak me out.  I love most everything about nature, but as for curlews… no thank you.

4. People saying “yous.”  It’s an Australian thing, though not everyone here does it.  It’s like “y’all” in the south but far less charming and it drives me crazy.  It’s not grammatically correct!!!

5.  Utes.  I don’t know exactly why they bother me so much, but it’s probably because they’re all over Townsville and they’re the douchiest vehicles in existence.

6. How everything here closes at like 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays.

7. Sad, sad attempts at Mexican food.  I CANNOT WAIT TO HAVE A QUALITY BURRITO.

8. Canadians.  (Just kidding!  ……kind of.)

9. Roundabouts.  THEY’RE SO POINTLESS.  Why wouldn’t you just have a 4-way stop?!

10. Cane toads.  They’re not around as much now but during the wet season there were at least 10 hanging out by the door to my dorm every night.  It’s a miracle that I never stepped on one.

I do realize that now it sounds like I hate Australia and can’t wait to leave.  This is certainly not the case.  There are equally as many, if not more, things that I will really miss about my time here, so in a few hours I’ll put up a list of those.  Check back soon if you’re interested or if you’re not at all interested but, like me, are procrastinating something.

A delayed weekend update

14 Jun

Before I talk about this weekend I’d like to do a quick plug.  If you like video games/movies/tv shows, enjoy reading about those things on the internet, and happen to be one of my few readers who doesn’t also know Stephen, do yourself a favor and check out this blog.  You’ll like it.

Visiting Dane was awesome, as expected.  It was great to see him and Amy again and to meet his parents, who were gracious enough to let me stay in their house.  They looked after me and made me feel very at home, which was beyond awesome.  I also met his brother, sister, and dog (we became bffs after about five minutes.)  It was really nice to be around a family for the first time since I left the States back in February- sometimes it’s just nice to spend time in a home, especially after being away from your own for so long.  It made me miss my family a lot though, even my stupid brothers.

It was a pretty laid back weekend… exactly what I needed to relax after exams.  During the day Dane took me shopping and showed me around Wollongong: we went to some (cold) beaches so I could see waves (I miss them!) and checked out a cool spot where the waves come through a hole in the rocks and form a blowhole.  On Friday night we had a family barbeque with Amy and Dane’s brother’s girlfriend, followed by a game of tipsy Trivial Pursuit and Super Smash Bros.  Saturday night I went out for dinner with Dane, Amy, and their friend Liz, then Dane had to DJ at a club in town so we went along and had a girl’s night out.  The club was PACKED, which was a little overwhelming but awesome for Dane.  His shift went until 3am so it was a late night, especially for someone like myself with the sleep schedule of an old person.  On Sunday I flew back to Townsville and its delightfully warm weather.  All in all it was a great time and I’m really glad that I was able to make it down there- now Dane and Amy have to come visit me in the states!

Here are some various pics from the weekend:

Note our attire in the photo below- it was windy, rainy, and COLD for most of the time.  It’ll be very nice to return to summer in Virginia.

 

 

One of the highlights of my weekend was getting to use the espresso machine that Dane’s family has IN THEIR HOUSE.  For someone who really loves coffee, that’s basically a dream come true.  Dane’s dad was nice enough to show me how to use it so I could make my own lattes in the morning.  Awesome.  (Yeah, I took a photo of it.  I’m not ashamed.)

So that was my weekend!  Now it’s back to studying for my last exam on Thursday and packing.  I’ll be doing a couple more Australia posts before I head to Thailand, so check back in a day or two.

Last weekend in Australia?!?!

9 Jun

How weird is it that it’s my last weekend here?  It doesn’t seem real to me yet and it probably won’t hit me until next Saturday when I’m on a plane to Thailand…

I’m spending this weekend doing something I’ve wanted to do since I first got here- visiting my friend Dane down in Wollongong (near Sydney.)  Dane and I worked together two summers ago as summer camp counselors at Camp Ocean Pines and became great friends.  The two of us plus another counselor were the only under-21 staff, so we spent a lot of time bonding on the weekends when everyone else went out to the bar in Cambria.  If any of you have been following my blogging activity since 2009 (i.e. Mom, Dad, Grandma and maybe some internet creeps, though that’s probably giving myself too much credit) you may remember Dane from several posts in my first travel blog.

I got to see Dane and meet his awesome girlfriend Amy for one night back in February during our orientation in Sydney, but I promised them that I would visit them again before I leave, and now I finally am!  I’m really excited- it’ll be great to see them and also nice to get out of Townsville and see a little more of Australia before I leave.

Here’s a photo of me and Dane from the camp days… hahaha:

I’ll be back Sunday night, so check back Monday for an update recapping what I’m sure will be an awesome trip.  Have a great weekend!

Some good news and some bad news

8 Jun

I know I said I’d do a post yesterday, but I was being a responsible student and studying for my final that I took this morning.  Today I have some good news and some bad news.  I’ll give you the bad news first because I always prefer to end on a high note…

Bad news:

I’m no longer going to Singapore.  Something came up with my mom’s work and she isn’t able to go, and she unfortunately isn’t comfortable with me going by myself.  It’s a bummer but I still get to go to Thailand, Sydney, and New Zealand so I mean things could be worse.  It looks like I’ll just be spending a few extra days in Thailand, so now I’ll be there for a full two weeks instead of 10 days.

Good news:

I’m done with three of my four finals!  These past few days have been a little rough- three exams in three days is never fun- but now I have a full week until my last final.  I feel like I did really well on the first two and probably just average on the one I took this morning, but it feels nice to have that behind me.  I’d like to take a moment to discuss the final exam administration procedure here at JCU, because it’s totally whack.  It’s essentially like taking the SATs… you can’t take anything to your desk except for pencils, pens, erasers, sometimes calculators, and a clear water bottle (because apparently they’re afraid we’ll write answers on the label.)  The test is administered by pissy old ladies that walk around and peer over your shoulder to make sure no one is cheating.  It’s really not a pleasant experience.  I guess I’ve never really thought about it before now but at UVA we have an honor code and it really does make a difference.  I’ve always just sort of considered the honor code to be mildly irritating, especially since once I forgot to write it out at the bottom of an exam and lost points, but it’s so nice to have professors treat you like responsible adults who aren’t always looking to cheat, instead of the opposite.  It’s not uncommon at UVA for a professor to hand out a final exam and then leave for an hour and I know some people who have been able to take theirs wherever they wanted to: in the library, outside, etc.  I’ve texted during finals on more than one occasion.  Here they won’t even let you keep your calculator cover on your desk.  It’s just very different, and not in a good way.

I don’t have a photo to go along with either of these things, so here’s one I took a few weeks ago of a huntsman spider with my foot for a size comparison.  I don’t have a problem with spiders, but this one freaked me out a little.

Tomorrow I fly down to Sydney to visit my friend Dane!!!  I should have time in the morning for a quick update before I leave, so check back then.

Diving the Moltke

6 Jun

Yesterday I went diving over on Maggie at this shipwreck called the Moltke.  It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for about a month now but it’s just such a hassle to get over there (which is a bad excuse but it’s true) that I kept putting it off.  I was starting to think I was never going to make it back to Magnetic Island, which would have sucked, but luckily for me Jenny decided to finish her certification yesterday and wanted me to come with her.  She only had one dive left (she had an ear problem during her course so they just told her to come back) and I was able to do my dive at the same time, so it worked out really well.  We even made it back to the mainland in time for our last Sunday brunch together.

The Moltke is in pretty shallow water (it was high tide and we never got below 6.6 meters) about 200 meters from a conveniently located boat ramp in Geoffrey Bay.  It was cloudy and windy when we woke up in the morning, so I was pretty bummed and expected a mediocre dive, but it ended up being awesome.  The visibility was pretty good (although anything seems good when you’re used to 1/2 meter, which was the vis when I got certified) and the sun came out about halfway through.  The wreck is covered in both hard and soft corals and there were TONS of tropical fish.  I took my camera expecting not to get many photos, but I actually got quite a few that I like.

UVA colored nudibranchs!

So yeah, really glad I did that.  I was feeling a little apprehensive about going to Thailand to get get my Advanced and Rescue Diver certifications without having very much dive experience at all, but this dive went really smoothly and made me feel a lot more confident.  Also, the instructor who took me out to the Moltke was Maria, the same girl that certified me- she’s really nice and assured me that I’ll do fine in Thailand.  I’m also glad I went because this will almost definitely be my last trip over to Maggie before I leave Townsville.  I really love it over there, so it was nice to have one more chance to see it.  Here’s the last photo I took yesterday, which will probably be my last photo of Magnetic Island for a very long time:

I have my first exam tonight, then one tomorrow morning, then one Wednesday morning, then my next one isn’t for eight days.  I’ve actually done a pretty good job staying on task and studying, so at this point I’m not really worried at all about finals.  I’m not sure what my next update will be about, but be sure to check back tomorrow anyway for a surprise post(?!)