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Just Because

17 Jan

While many ask “why?” I’ve always been the type of gal to ask, “Why not?!”  Today’s mini-post is no exception.

These are just 2 pics that I am completely obsessed with, yet have no plausible way to tie them into another post.

I found this first little gem while stealing pictures from Ryan’s camera; it was taken during our very first day in Australia, when we first saw the Opera House. Ryan caught some candid shots of Lauren and me dancing – but to be fair the live band at the Opera bar was playing a rendition of Britney Spears’ iconic “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.”  It’s Sydney Britney, bitch!

 

Fact: I still know all of Britney's original choreography.

And this picture is just to make your day a little brighter and your winter a little warmer. If it doesn’t make you smile, you are probably a big downer dead inside.

 

 

In my completely unbiased opinion, this is the single cutest baby on the planet.

 

I. Die. for this picture.

Happy Monday, y’all – just keep keepin’ on.  And if all else fails, think of Tator Tot! (and send him your good vibes, because he’s in the hospital with RSV right now – but don’t worry, he’s a tough little Tot, just like his Mama)

Epic Australia Post Day 7: The End

17 Jan

“What kind of idiots get sunburned on their last day? Answer: Team America.”

Saturday was our last day in Sydney. And we were sad. We also knew that a lot of snow was awaiting us in South Korea.

Luckily, the hostel needed us to check out at 10 am, but agreed to hold our bags (for free) until around 4pm when we needed to get to the airport.

We jumped on a bus down to the Rocks, where we found a great little breakfast place that allowed us to eat outside in the garden. It also happened to be the warmest day of our trip, and we were intent on soaking it in before returning to winter.

After lunch we poked around a few stores (note: Uggs are the same price in Australia as they are in the US. . .which sucks) before heading down to Sydney Harbor for one more round of photo ops:

 

Warm, windy, and begging us to stay another week.

 

We still hadn’t explored Darling Harbour much (by foot at least), so we decided to head that way via ferry due to the nice weather.

30 minutes later (and a boat-rocking induced coma for Ryan) and we landed at Darling Harbour. It’s even more commercial than Sydney Harbor and is definitely geared more toward families during the day. Here they have the huge wildlife world (for people who don’t go to Taronga Zoo), a huge aquarium, the maritime museum, an Imax theater that boasts a screen that is 7-STORIES high, and restaurants and bars crammed into every corner. (It’s also where they had the house for MTV’S Real World:Sydney, but it’s been changed into a restaurant and we couldn’t figure out which one it used to be, much to your immense disappointment I know.)

 

Darling Harbour: Not just a clever name.

We grabbed some ice cream and promptly got sunburnt for the next 30-45 minutes as we made our way lazily around the Harbour.  There wasn’t much that I actually wanted to do there during the day, despite the fact that it’s a really busy area so it’s good for eating and people watching, but it’s a place I would have liked to have gone out in. Just one more thing to add to my list for my next trip to Sydney. I’m sure the clubs and bars are a bit pricey, but the location would be worth it.

 

We then hightailed it to a bus, grabbed our bags at the hostel, and left for the airport. Thankfully the Sydney airport offers free wifi, since I had about 5 hours to kill until getting on the plane.  It also gave me plenty of time to change into my winter clothes, enjoy my last western meal, reflect on what a perfect vacation this was, and start to mentally prepare for the work and weather and the cast that awaited me in the next 15 hours.

 

My face when Ryan and Lauren said we had to leave for the airport.

What followed was all the bad parts of traveling: exchanging money and getting screwed over, sitting at the back of  a 60-row plane for 9 hours, and Red Scare: Part Deux in which my passport was again confiscated for 30 minutes in China. I also found out that they do not use the heaters at the Chinese airport, as I could see my breath during my 3-hour layover. And because I arrived in China at 5 am, none of the restaurants were open in the airport, so I sat, starving and cold, and wept softly watched Glee on my laptop.

 

1 taxi ride, 2 planes, 3 airports, and 1 shuttle later and we were back in snowy Dongbaek, approximately 23 hours after leaving Sydney.  As I struggled to lug my 50 pound suitcase up the icy rocks that lead into our village, a 90-pound Korean woman took one look at me, grabbed the suitcase and sprinted to the top of the incline while her children giggled nearby.

Back to real life.

Thank you for bearing with me during the Australia posts; I really wrote them in the hopes of capturing all the memories I made and the fun we had that week, so I realize they were far more detail-oriented than most. But I would go on record as strongly recommending a trip to Sydney for anyone reading this.

And before I forget, I need to write about how great it was to be back in a place where I read and spoke the dominant language. I kept trying to add this into other posts, like during our trip to the grocery store, or while trying to figure out directions at the bus stop, but it always dragged the rest of the writing down.  Being in Korea for 4 1/2 months now, I’ve just gotten used to certain things, and accepted a whole new set of limitations. And really, like anything else, you just get used to it.

It wasn’t until we were in Sydney that I realized how amazing it is to communicate the simplest things. I’m fairly certain this is what people call “reverse culture shock.” I didn’t really experience this during my time in South America, because my entire travels were 4 months total, and I could in fact read and speak the dominant language.

Some examples of my reverse culture shock in Sydney:

-Being able to order food at a restaurant without pointing to a picture on the menu, and while also knowing exactly what I was going to get

-Going to a grocery store and seeing familiar items; everything from fruit to candy (fact: I hadn’t seen gummy candy, Reese’s or Red Bull in 4 months, and no I did not survive solely on junk food; I just stared at it distrustfully, like I didn’t quite know why it was there)

-Being able to communicate with a bus driver, taxi driver, or store owner when lost and in need of directions

-Being able to fit into all the clothes (after the initial size mishap, that is) Fact: everything in Korea is just smaller.

-Walking into a movie theater and knowing I will be able to watch all of the movies they play

And there are countless other instances, which really do seem trivial and mundane, but it’s hard to describe how liberating it is to be able to communicate everything you want to say, after having felt limited for so long.

And for the record, I am slowly but surely learning Korean. Between my friends and coworkers I’m learning basic, useful phrases, and taking on the challenge of reading, which is unlike anything I’ve ever learned. In order to make this all more official, I’m using the laminating machine at work to secretly make flashcards for myself. Because everyone knows it’s impossible to learn on un-laminated paper. And because that laminater is so damn alluring.

But, as usual, I digress.

Farewell Epic Australia posts . . . here’s hoping that Boracay lives up to the high vacation standards I now have.

And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without one last. . .cheers!

Epic Australia Post: Day 5 and 6

16 Jan

“I Think the Bed Is Haunted” and “Make Your Mark – NYE 2010”

Thursday was definitely our down day of the trip. We ate lunch in another local Glebe place, and spent the rest of the day shopping and walking around George Street.

Important note: Sizes in Australia are 4 numbers higher than US sizes. For example, a US 4 is an Australian 8, a US 6 is an Australian 10 and so on.  Well, apparently Ryan knew this the entire time. I did not.  I therefore spent 4 hours basically battling my pride and vanity in various dressing rooms around Sydney. For no apparent reason, I just assumed I had gained a lot of weight, and after literally 4 hours of trying on clothes that didn’t fit and just generally drowning in self-loathing, I reached a breaking point. After complaining and lamenting all of this to Ryan, she casually pointed out the sizing difference. I did not physically or verbally abuse her. I just sat in stunned relief. Then I hit her.

While we had grand plans to go out Thursday night, we fell asleep fully clothed, with the lights on at about 11 pm, which we’ll blame on sun stroke.

Please note that during these 2 nights, I had a different girl sleeping in the bunk above me each night. Each night the girl would go to sleep, and each afternoon morning I would awake to find that she had left and the bed would be stripped bare. Now obviously this is not unusual in a hostel – people come and go every day – but it was only the bunk over mine where this kept happening. So naturally we concluded that it was haunted, and that we were only meeting ghosts. Obviously. We were convinced that if we asked the guy at the front desk about this phenomenon, he would say something ominous like “No one has rented that bunk for 50 yeeeeaaaaarrrrrsss.” So we didn’t ask.

Friday was New Year’s Eve. We knew all along that we wanted to watch the fireworks from Sydney Harbor, and we had been warned that people got there very early and basically camped out all day for a good seat. This is important because they close off the Harbor once it reaches capacity, so you can’t just waltz in there at 11 pm and expect to see the show.

We headed down there after brunch, and walked into what looked like an outdoor music festival; families spread all over in lawn chairs and on blankets, stockpiled with food, books, games, drinks, music, and pillows. Once we were safely in the Harbor area, we decided to see a movie to kill some time, and avoid frying out in the sun.

We watched the King’s Speech, which was legitimately brilliant and heartwarming and left us all in good spirits, ready to brave the crowd. Please note that when 2 million people (that is the real number) descend on an area, everything is crowded and walking is more like tip-toeing around blankets, only to be stalled for 5 minute periods. Which was fine. We had been warned, and we weren’t in any kind of hurry.

There were only 3 of us, so we found a spot with a perfect view of the Bridge, which put the Opera House to our right (both landmarks do concurrent firework shows). We sat there for the next 4 hours, reading books, talking, and of course, people watching. At 9 pm they have a smaller fireworks show for the “families” even though no one really leaves afterward. They also have boats riding around the Harbor, all decorated in lights which is really pretty.

At 11:50 pm everyone basically stands up and moves forward. I resisted until literally the 20th small Indian child (we sort of planted ourselves in the middle of a large Indian family reunion) stepped on me, and then I just gave in and stood up.

And it was bananas. We mainly watched the Bridge fireworks, but we also had the Opera House show to our right, and the skyscrapers setting off fireworks to our left. Instead of even trying to play it cool, I just stood there and let out unexpected “OMG!s” and “WHOA!!!s” along with everyone else. And I may have cried a little.

Because it was beautiful. And I was on this amazing vacation with these amazing new friends – a situation basically inconceivable to me just 6 months prior. And because I was saying good-bye to a banner year; one that included my college graduation, the birth of my nephew, and my life-altering move to South Korea.

It was a perfect bookend to our week and to this year. The next day, I read in the paper that the show’s theme was “Make Your Mark.” Done and done, Sydney.

Naturally, once the show was over, we followed the herd out onto the streets. And while it was chaotic and crowded, it was also strangely organized and calm. We kept commenting how this would never happen in America; I mean you can’t even walk down the Vegas Strip without running into at least 25 drunk maniacs, let alone on New Year’s. It was the kind of thing that only effortlessly cool Australians can do.

Instead of braving the lines for a bus or taxi, we walked – along with at least 500,000 of our closest friends – down George Street for at least a couple miles. They had the roads blocked off, so it was just a huge flow of people, migrating away from the Harbor. We walked. And walked.  And eventually we caught a bus home.

I usually think NYE is one of the most hyped-up, disappointing events ever, second only to high school prom. But this one was great, and I was actually relieved that we didn’t try to get into some club or bar, which were filled to capacity with wasted 19 year-olds who couldn’t have cared less about fireworks, and where we would have easily dropped at least $100 for a night out.

This year, there were no overpriced drinks to force down, no smokey bar to yell across, and no pressure to find someone to kiss at midnight – and it was seriously the best NYE I’ve ever had.

Oh and just because it’s convenient, here are my rad New Year’s resolutions:

-Continue being awesome. And by awesome I mean living a life that I have created for myself, that I really want, and that I am both happy and proud to say is mine.

-Continue to be brave, but not reckless.  And always strive to be open-minded to all the different people I meet and the places I visit, even when things get weird. Because they always do.

-Be a kick ass friend; ie, make phone calls and send emails to ensure that all of my geographically spread out besties know how much they mean to me, and that I am still there for them, via technology at  least.

-Get at least 3 new passport stamps. (the first one will be next month in the Philippines)

-Make sure I show my family as much non-judgmental support, endless understanding, and unconditional love as they show me on a daily basis. (and yes, that is ooey gooey, especially for me, but I just can’t stress enough how cool my family is. You should be jealous.)

-Meet, spoil, and love on my nephew as much as possible, once I get home next fall.

-Figure out what country 2012 will bring. . .

But I digress. There is still one more epic Australia post to come. Stay tuned.

Epic Australia Post: Days 3 and 4

15 Jan

“Team America Goes to Bondi Beach” and “Mummy I can see his privates!”

Tuesday afternoon we pulled ourselves out of bed, and hopped back on the double-decker bus, but this time headed to *Bondi Beach. Bondi was about 25 minutes away from Sydney, and we got to see a few different parts of the city on our way out there, most notably King’s Cross which is a very cool area. And it reminded us that Sydney is huge, and every part of it is different, and that there was no conceivable way we were going to be able to explore everything. . . so I guess we’ll just have to plan a return move trip sometime. (darnnit)

*It’s pronounced Bond-eye, and you WILL be made fun of if you pronounce it Bond-ee, not that I know from experience or anything.

Oh and on the way there, I got hit in the head by a kamakaze plant while whizzing down the street on the double-decker. This lead to me ducking at every tree in sight for the duration of the ride, much to Ryan and Lauren’s amusement.

It was actually a rather chilly day at Bondi, but we spent some time laying on the sand, sleeping and people watching. Then we headed up to the shops and restaurants for some delicious seafood.

 

Fact: It is better to spend December at the beach than in the snow.

Oh and I also managed to snap a pic for next year’s Christmas card:

 

'Sup?

Overall, Bondi was a really pretty and chill place. I wish we could have hit it up on a warmer day, but our time was limited. Definitely a good place to relax after a night out.

Tuesday night we had a few drinks at a bar, and then headed over to Sydney Harbor to take pictures of the bridge and Opera House at night. My camera’s night setting is kinda wonky, however, so they are blurry and probably only cool to me, so I’ll refrain from posting them.

Day 4:  Wednesday morning we moved to our second hostel in the Glebe area of Sydney. Glebe is basically a hippie haven, and is full restaurants and hostels.  The people there are amazingly helpful and friendly and I would highly recommend a hostel in this area – it’s just not much for nightlife, so grabbing a taxi after 11 pm is a must.

The hostel was wonderful; clean, relaxed, it had a rooftop lounge area where you could get some sun, or just eat in the shade and enjoy the weather. And we instantly fell in love with the front desk guy, who was adorably spacey and hilarious, which really set the tone for Glebe/the 2nd part of our week in Australia.  We grabbed some breakfast at a great local place, and then went down to the Harbor, where we caught the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. (note: the zoo can only be reached by ferry, but the rides are cheap and enjoyable)

 

The ferry also provides great photo ops, if you don't mind windswept hair.

The zoo is very popular, so it’s crowded but not Disneyland-crazy. It was warm and we definitely got some sun, but it was actually really fun – and I don’t even like animals that much (unlike Ryan who told us she was a San Diego Zoo Member no less than 5 times).

And while I thoroughly enjoyed the zoo, especially seeing the koalas which really are adorable if not rather unenthused and lazy, I won’t bore you with too many animal pics because those are only cool if you were there. But rest assured, we saw many exotic animals and enjoyed making up conversations for them, much to the appreciation of the other patrons I’m sure.

 

I have no explanation for taking or posting this picture, except that I really like it.

Our one hilarious moment of the day came at the kangaroo exhibit. One of the male kangaroos was lying on his back rather exposed, and an adorable 8-year-old girl, with an Australian accent, said very loudly, “Mummy, I can see his privates!” This comment pretty much did us in.

 

Fact: Kangaroos are not ashamed. Please note the offensive male kangaroo to the far right.

And just FYI, Australian accents make every child at the zoo sound exactly like the Crocodile Hunter. Which is also very enjoyable.

Fun fact: We also rode a huge gondola down to the ferry, giving us some really great 360 views of the zoo.

Some Thai food and a few disco naps later, and we were all dolled up and on our way to Ivy Bar, a pretty well-known club/bar on George Street. It is open air, with lights all over the top which adds to its very chic atmosphere. We had a few drinks there (and met a kid who was a dead ringer for Macaulay Culkin “or that kid from Powder”) before heading back down to our favorite pub, the 3 Monkeys. I would also highly recommend Ivy Bar – pretty place, pretty people, and an overall good vibe. We only left because there was no dancing.

 

Ivy Bar

We spent the rest of our night at the pub and had a great time. Fun fact: Lauren met a legit Bollywood star there . . . and made fun of his dancing, as only a true member of Team America could do.

The only other notable thing happened at Burger King (no seriously). I ordered the Aussie Meal, and sweet jesus the hamburger was like a melting pot of gross:  egg, onion, cheese, pickles, weird sauces. . .and beets. Which gave the entire burger a weird purple color. Oh and it tasted. . . like beets. This prompted a 20-minute monologue about how beets are totally weird and no one really “gets” them and if they were famous they would be the Joaquin Phoenix(s) and Chloe Sevigny(s) of Hollywood. (it’s true, think about it)

Like I said, a very good, but rather uneventful night.

Epic Australia Post: Day 2

14 Jan

“If It’s Not There, It’s Not There” or “Team America”

Hands down, the best Monday I’ve ever had. I’m serious.

It all started rather blandly, as we moved rooms in the hostel and found ourselves rooming with 2 very cool Scottish girls.  The Scots have been traveling around and working various places for the past few years (including a stint  at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver) and were currently working in Sydney as bartenders. They pointed us in the direction of a grocery store, where we headed off to grab some food.

This is only notable because we bought some frozen pizzas. Upon arriving back at the hostel, we unloaded our groceries into the big, shared kitchen, only to realize there was no freezer. We assumed we were just looking in the wrong place and promptly sent Lauren off to ask the girl at the front desk. Her answer spawned a thousand jokes, countless giggle fits, and what is essentially my new life motto:

“Well I can’t imagine we wouldn’t have a freezer. But if it’s not there, it’s not there.

Say this to yourself in an Australian accent. And then remember that you are talking about a freezer, and that this answer came from a paid employee. If you aren’t laughing right now, you’re dead inside.

Suffice to say, “it wasn’t there,” so we put the pizzas in the refrigerator, which will come into play later in the day.

We headed out and hopped on one of those double-decker city tour buses, in the hopes of getting oriented, figuring out what we wanted to do with our day, and reasoning that if nothing else, this same ticket will get us to Bondi Beach the following day for free.

We made a quick stop at Darling Harbour, which is a very fun area:

We saw a few more of the city’s landmarks before deciding to get off the bus at an area known as The Rocks. The Rocks is the area around Sydney Harbor, which includes some fun bars, restaurants, and old school cobblestone streets. It was on one of those cobblestone streets that we spotted a huge outdoor marketplace, where we spent the next couple hours looking around, and where I bought Tator Tot an adorable outfit.

Finished with the market and realizing it’s 5 pm already, we head into the Orient Hotel for happy hour because: 1) the hotel is literally at the center of the market and therefore really busy and 2) it had some great live music coming from it.

Inside we order an Australian speciality: wedge potato fries, with sour cream and sweet chili sauce and a few different local beers. Sweet jesus, that stuff is like crack. Unlike crack, however, I highly recommend it to all readers of this blog.

Fact: We are ready to move to Australia at this point.

A few beers later, we are happily singing along with the band: 2 middle-aged hippies, playing the best of the ’60s and ’70s, when out of nowhere, we are approached by 3 Brits:  2 older woman (re:cougars) and a very drunk 20-year-old guy (note: wants to get with one of the cougars). 3 Brits quickly turned into 5 or 6, mostly middle-aged, harmless, and wasted.

The next hour is a complete blur, as we immediately got swept into a Brit frenzy. We sang. We laughed. We took stupid pictures. And we made a lot of jokes about the awkward May-December romance that was blossoming before our eyes (fact: cougars work fast).  We have yet to fully understand how this all happened at our table, but needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lauren with some of our new, British friends. Note the Cougar and her drunk prey on the left.

Candid shot; Dancing to "Brown-Eyed Girl" during happy hour while on vacation in Sydney. . . no fun at all.

Around 7, we headed back to the hostel for dinner, disco naps, and pre-party primping.  We ate our refrigerated pizza, and in classic Claire style, I promptly got sick for the next hour.

But I rallied, people.  Because while on vacation in Sydney with friends, one does not simply get sick and collapse in defeat. You drink some Sprite, put on your makeup while singing to Lady Gaga, and you FREAKING RALLY!  (And because we ended up having such a great time, it became a running joke that we would only have a good night out if I got sick beforehand. Thankfully for me, however, that only happened Monday night).

Around 11 we headed out to George Street, a prime location for clubs and bars. At random, we chose a really great pub: the first 2 levels were for drinking and hanging out and the 3rd level was nothing but a huge dance floor and a DJ.

Crowded, sweaty, and happy on the dance floor of the 3 Monkeys Pub.

We met some more hilarious Brits who made the entire night into a World War II analogy and dubbed us “Team America.”  And by WWII analogies, I mean that they mainly called us their Allies, and begged us not to leave them “taking grenades in the trenches.”And by trenches, they meant dance floor. And whenever they would pass us in the bar, they would hold up their firsts and yell “Team America!!!”

Continuing with our politically incorrect pub tour, we met more international friends, immortalized and remembered fondly as “Cuban Cupid” and “The Boondock Saints.*”

We drank and danced the night away, switching locations a few times, before watching the sunrise from a street corner, while eating kebabs  and laughing about what an unexpected day we had.

*Note: The Boondock Saints were a group of young Irish guys, who never told us what exactly they did for a living. We therefore decided to make up our own backgrounds for them. Obviously, mine was the most creative took a more theatrical, and not at all stereotypical route.

How to sum up this epic day?

Two words: Monday Funday.

Epic Australia Post: Day 1

13 Jan

“A Nation of People Born to Wear Hollister”

As I mentioned in “Red Scare,”  Lauren, Ryan and I arrived in Sydney at 9:30 am, jet lagged, haggard, but really freaking excited. We grabbed some airport breakfast, a few pre-paid cellphones for the week (best travel idea ever), and headed out into the WARM, rainy air like the slap happy ex-pats we are.

We arrived at our first hostel 15 minutes later, and promptly slept until 3 pm.  This first hostel, which we stayed at for 3 nights, was pretty nice, but had a rather stuffy management, which I always find rather ironic. Why would OCD, Type-A people want to run an establishment for broke, young, fun-lovin’ travelers?

But I digress. The hostel was in the Redfern area of Sydney, and a short 10 minute walk got us to one of the main bus/subway stations. While waiting for a free shuttle (public transportation in Sydney is FAB), we were happily sweating and people watching.

Note: Everyone who is Australian is automatically: 1) cooler than you in an effortless, hippie-chic kind of way  2) hotter than you and 3) SUPER nice due to reasons 1 and 2.

Our observations at the bus stop:

“I feel like this is just a nation of people born to wear Hollister.”

“Australia is just a factory for making hot people.” Which was quickly followed by, “Well yeah, because it’s an island so it’s contained. But it’s not so small that they are inbreeding.” (silence)

Our shuttle took us down to Sydney Harbor where we had some much-needed western food, while overlooking the water.  Also worth noting: You do not tip in Australia, which is nice since the prices are generally on par with most big cities in the US, and thus far steeper than anything we’ve experienced in Korea. This means that food servers do not work for tips, are paid a rather high hourly wage, and are therefore very nice, very relaxed, and much less fake.

While eating, we asked our jovial server what he recommended we do on our vacation. In what would become a very typical, laid-back-because-I’m-Australian response, he replied, “Oh, just go to the beach and have a rest. You’re on vacation. I’m sure you work a lot in Korea, so just have a rest. Relax. Cheers!” This would also be the start of our overuse of the word Cheers! (exclamation mandatory), because damned if it doesn’t just make every sentence a little happier, even when delivering bad news.

Ex: “I think we got off at the wrong bus stop. We’re getting rained on, it’s dark, we’re lost, but you guys, I’m really happy we’re in Sydney. Cheers!”


After lunch we wandered and took a few pics:

 

Jet-lagged but ecstatic

The first of 5000 Opera House pics. . . but it really is a stunning building.

 

We bummed around the Harbor for a few hours until it started raining – hard. So we ducked into the movie theater and saw “Love and Other Drugs,” which was good and fun and it had Jake Gyllenhaal so who’s complaining?!

Then we called it an early night. Which was good, since the next day turned out to be one of the best. Ever.