2nd Week

Hey all

So I thought I’d report on the latest happenings. I’ve had a few classes and it is quite a bit different from QUT. Only 1 of my classes use powerpoint and none of them are recorded so there is no podcasts/streaming. This means you really have to go to every class or you’ll miss something. Which is hard to do. Especially for economics at 9am on a Monday.

The classes are also shorter. Some lectures are just for 50 mins twice a week……why not do one 2 hour lesson? There are also no tutorials, just the 2 or 1 hour a lecture. This means its pretty much left to yourself to study/make sure your up to date on the material.

Overall, QUT seems to be pretty advanced in its use of technology and honestly I think UCD needs to catch up.

Guiness Factory with some crazy Canadians

On the social side of things Dublin is awesome. There is just so much going on every night of the week and so many trips you can take on the weekend. This is really good because on exchange you really want to meet as many people as you can. Going out every night and going on trips, while being tiring and expensive, is the best way to meet new people. Our motto for this trip has been to never say ‘No’ to any offer (within reason hahaha) and we are having a blast.

The only things is money. I’ve spent way to much and really need to start a budget haha. So whatever your planning to bring…add another 2000 on top to be safe I’d say.

And of course I can’t finish without mentioning Australia Day. We did the nation proud and hosted a party to introduce all our international friends to Australia Day and lets just say it was memorable.

 

Straya Day!

I know its a bit late, but Happy Australia Day!

I actually counted down the hours until it was midnight in Australia. Unfortunately, I was nowhere near a computer at that point.

The last week or so has been interesting. Unfortunately I think a lot of the stuff being covered in my subjects over here is stuff I’ve already learnt. I probably shouldn’t complain to much about that. I am however learning German. It’s interesting being in a room full of people who are speaking a language you barely remember. That being said, I don’t have a lot of pressure to pass the unit, so I’m not too worried.

One of the highlights of my week was getting an Irish lecturer to publicly admit that Australian’s are no longer all a bunch of convicts. You can all thank me later.

The weather is starting to get cooler, and I’m actually having to do work now. The holiday is over :/. Still, I’m learning a lot about the culture here. Despite how similar Australia and the UK are, it’s quite easy to experience a feeling of culture shock. Small differences really make you appreciate home. As an example, no one will say hello to you or smile at you in the streets of London. Public transport is almost a fight to the death to get on at peak hour; you see old women hitting kneecaps with canes.

In a sense, one major thing I miss about Australia is how friendly everyone is. I think over here, they’d sooner stab you than say hi. Still, it’s a lot of fun. A major thing I miss from Australia is Iced Coffee. It is next to IMPOSSIBLE to get it here, and I mean completely and utterly difficult. I’ve not had a decent Iced Coffee since I’ve got here (nor a decent coffee for that matter) and I feel cravings often. If someone loved me, they would send a crate over? 😛

I heard most of South East Queensland is wet right now. I wish you all the best. And as always,

Stay Classy Australia,

Tom

P.S. I know I haven’t posted a lot of photos, so for my next update, I’m gonna try and get a whole bunch of photos of the friends I’ve made, places I see daily, and some other ones I’ve taken since being here.

Cultural Differences and People Management

Ok, so I’m enrolled in a unit called Cultural Differences and People Management. A lot of the course work revolves around writing about our feelings and such (BSB124 anyone?). It has a lot of self-reflection. I’ve just completed the homework for the first seminar (their version of tutorials). To describe it in a few words, I went from being very reserved in my answers to listing every difference or issue I have noticed/experienced since being here. I think it sums up well the time I’ve spent here so far, and thus I shall replicate it for all of your amusement (?):

“Seminar Week 2 – Cultural Management

1. From French, 2010:45: “How useful is it to view culture in Hofstede’s term as ‘the collective programming of the mind’”? Give examples of such ‘collective programming’ from your own cultures.

By assuming national cultures share common characteristics that are a part of their “programming” it allows managers and business professionals to make realistic assumptions about the people they interact with. It assists in both management of, and interaction with, people from other cultures. It also removes the barrier of cultures and ensures and insures human interactions are unhindered by cultural differences/biases.

What Hofstede provides is a way to examine culture in a general sense. Whilst he notes not all people, within a culture are the same, and that personalities/unique traits have a high variation within a population, he believes that there are certain core elements of a culture that are shared among its populace. As such, to think of it as a collective programming of people’s minds allows people to interact with another culture in an effective (and non-offensive) manner.

Examples of Cultural Programming within our own culture:
• Mateship – Australians are for the most part, all friends with one another, regardless of whether or not we know each other or are strangers. We will greet strangers on the street, ask them about their day, and offer assistance on trivial things if needed.
• Empathy – Australia is a very compassionate nation. In times of crisis, we will go above and beyond to help a fellow man
• Fairness – Australians operate on a fairness basis. To put simply, we believe in “a fair go” and that all people should be given a chance when it is due to them. We believe also in the fair value of things, that is, we believe that in all things there should be an equivalent exchange. For example, the Australian public believes we should not pay more for something if it isn’t worth something, we will pay only if the price is fair. We will complain about the rate of tax if our governments are not providing adequate services for the money we pay. We will voice our objection to any political policies that discriminate against the Australian people, and the concept of “a fair go”. On a side note, most Australians will look down on ANYONE who doesn’t contribute to society in some respect, as it violates this policy of fairness and equivalent exchange. We have a name for these people.
• Respect – We have a deep respect for our history and those who serve the country in some way.

2. What is meant by’ Culture Shock? Can you give any examples of it from your own experience?
Culture shock is the dissonance felt when experiencing a culture that is not one’s own. It manifests in a number of ways, most commonly feelings of anxiety and feelings of alienation within the foreign culture because you are operating within an environment that conflicts with your own perception of what is a “normal” society.

Some examples from my own experience would be some of the etiquette differences between Australia and the UK. Australian people will say hello to people on the street. That does not occur here. Other minor differences that made me feel a little alienated included the rearrangement of goods on supermarket shelves, not seeing familiar brands from back home, being scolded for things that are considered a must over here, but no one cares about in Australia (e.g. Over here it is expected you place a barricade between your food items and someone else’s. In Australia, we rarely use this, as we just leave a space for those behind us. I was scolded because I OFFERED the person behind me the use of the barrier). Other minor differences I’ve noticed include:
• Australians walking up stairs/escalators on a different side than the British
• The amount of foods British people smother with butter
Some minor things that I’ve been annoyed with since being here:
• The assumption that all Australians cannot be well spoken. No offence to any British people reading this, but I’ve seen more Australians that have a higher mastery of the English language than I have within the population of the UK itself, in fact, we butcher the language to a lesser degree than a lot of the locals within this country.
• We do NOT ride kangaroos to school
• We are NOT all uncivilised. Education has gotten better since federation
• We are NOT all convicts. Hell, a vast majority of people who were sent to Australia were jailed for stealing bread to support their families, because lord knows the UK’s economy couldn’t support them at the time.

3. Is ‘Culture Shock’ inevitable when you encounter a new or different culture?

After the above examples, I’d like to say yes to this question, however, just because I have noticed these differences/had these scrutinies, it does not mean I have not been able to cope, and for the most part, get along swimmingly with a lot of people. I have made a vast majority of friends since being here, and my interpersonal skills are just as effective in this country as they are in my own. I’d also like to note the best people I’ve met whilst in the UK, so far, are the French.

4. Describe some strategies that are useful in avoiding or minimising culture shock.
• Cross-cultural training or some program that enforces learning in diversity – To help understand that there are differences among cultures, and to harbor respect for all people
• Living in a multicultural society – Australia being largely multicultural, we don’t have an issue with being surrounded by multiple cultures, in fact as a general rule, we embrace having so much cultural diversity, as it forces us to understand that we are not the greatest culture in the world, nor the worse, and that all cultures should be respected.
• Researching the culture before entering the country – It may not be possible to know ALL the nuances in another country before arriving, but it definitely can assists in avoiding any largely awkward situations.”

I’ll admit it gets a tad whiney at the end. But it felt so good to voice those opinions on paper format. ALL IN ALL though, I am loving my time here. And I’ve made sure to correct many people about any misconceptions they have about Australia.

Stay classy Aus,

Tom

The First Week!

Hey everyone this is my first blog post after 5 days in Ireland. I’m studying at UCD in Dublin and just started classes today. We arrived on Wednesday at about 11am after a long plane trip. The first thing you notice about Dublin is it is bloody cold! Being a used to 30 degree heat in Brisbane, the weather here was a bit of a shock. It’s quite a nice change from sweating in Brisbane though.

From the airport we got the Aircoach to UCD which was 8 Euros each, where as a taxi would be 50-60 euros we were told. The coach takes about 45 mins from the Airport and drops you right outside. From there we had to lug our bags across campus which was pretty tiring but we made it.

We are staying on campus at the Belgrove residence. It is the cheapest residence you can stay at 2400 Euros for the semester and is fairly basic. But we’ve been told by the Irish people we’ve met that it has the best craic (fun in Irish), so I’d recommend it if you don’t mind living a bit simpler and having a few parties ;).

Above is what a room looks like. This is Josh who is on exchange from QUT as well so he’ll be featuring in the blog a bit haha. He looks suitably impressed.

The cost of living here is quite good and i’d say probably a little bit cheaper than Brisbane, especially with the strength of the Aussie dollar against the Euro. Dinner in a pub is about 10 euro, a pint about 4 euro and bus 1.90. A cab home from the city is about 12 euros which is fairly good if you have 4 in the cab. The campus is about 15 mins on the bus from the city centre, with a bus stop on campus, so it is not too hard to get around.

Finally I had my first class today so i’ll finish on that. It was Economics of Public Policy, with about 50 people in the class. The classes here are a bit different to Brisbane. You take 6 subjects instead of 4 and there are more lectures but not many tutes. For example today’s lecture only went for 45 minutes and we have another one on Wednesday but no tutorials…kind of makes you wonder why they don’t just knock it over in one 2 hour session. My first impression is that it seems a bit easier than QUT and more focus on self study rather than lots of contact hours.

Thanks all for now

Cheers!

 

Orientation and other shenanigans

Ok, so it’s been a while since I posted, but I figured I’d accumulate some sort of backlog of events before I posted anything else. The period between new years day and orientation has been for the most part, extremely uneventful. The most exciting thing I did was open up a foreign bank account. Still took them over a week to activate the account, but at least its free. But I digress.

On Monday the 9th of January, I took my first steps into the University of Westminster. I think from this point forward, it will save time and make it easier if I describe what happened in each of three days individually.

Day 1:

I tried to navigate from the Baker Street Tube Station to the Marylebone campus of University of Westminster. Naturally, I’d prepared in advance and looked on Google Maps to find the location. Unfortunately, their is also something really close by known as the Westminster Business School. At first, I thought this was the name Google gave the building, as it is ALSO the name of the University of Westminsters Faculty, however, upon arriving, I realised this was not the case. As it turned out, they are separate, entirely unrelated entities, curse you Google! After walking in various different directions, I found it in the most obvious place imaginable; across the road from the station. Not one of my shining moments. In my defence, the street signage over here is actually rather poor; they don’t use them at smaller intersections, and place them on the side of buildings. There also seems to be a lack of standardization when it comes to indicating which sign belongs to which road. I arrived 15 minutes late to orientation and missed the niceties and getting to know you. Instead, I sat there for 2 hours taking in information that was, at large, already given to us via email. I was definitely off to a great start. Made no friends, went home. On this day I did however get a shock, as the units I was enrolled in at Westminster were not ALL the ones I had wanted. Panic mode was activated. I was informed that Business units at Westminster were almost full and that it was highly unlikely I’d be able to change into them. At that moment, the words “summer school” rung in my head, as without the specific units I wanted (and thought I had a chance of getting), I’d have to do summer school in order to graduate on time. That night, I went into a mad frenzy trying to work out alternatives to see what I could get credit for back at QUT, and researching how much space was left in each unit (and as suspected, each of the units I wanted to enrol in had a limited amount of space left). I was up until 2 am trying to sort these matters.

Day 2:

I woke up feeling like the embodiment of death. I didn’t need to be at Uni as early as the day before, but staying up late is never a good thing when an alarm is involved the next morning. Despite this, the day turned out A LOT better than expected.

Firstly, I had superb luck with public transport. Someone the day before suggested I got off the train at the stop next to the one I normally do. Normally I would get off at St Pancras station, but on this day, I followed the advice and got of at Faringdon station. The reason for this was to reduce the amount of time it took to get on the tube. At St Pancras, there is easily a 250m+ walk to the tube tunnels, whilst navigating a mass of people. By the time you’ve gotten onto the tube, you will have taken 10 mins. This is actually the way Transport For London, Google Maps, and other automatic journey planners suggest. Getting off at Faringdon however, meant there was only a 10 metre walk to the tube train, which arrived almost instantly. I saved 15 minutes on my journey like that. The luck continued however, when I reached the University, and reached the room where enrolment was taking place. My purpose that day was to make sure details were correct for enrolment, adjust any unit choices we wanted and to get ID cards. I arrived the moment the doors were opening, 30 minutes before the advertised time. Despite my initial thoughts about not being able to get my unit choices, it turns out, spaces were still left in ALL of the units I needed. I didn’t even consider the fact that arriving early would be a good thing, it was very much a first come first served basis. Because of my luck with transport, I no longer had an issue with units. I no longer had to do summer school. This was a good day. Made friends with an American guy(Andy) and a French girl (Agathe); met fellow QUT student, Melissa, who is also studying at the University of Westminster this semester.

Day 3:

This day wasn’t truly a day of orientation. This was the day of the amazing River Thames Boat Party. At first I didn’t want to go, but I’d feel bad not going to a boat party that someone had obviously put in a lot of effort to organise + give us free tickets. 45 minutes before boarding the boat I met another Australian. This is a big deal for me, as in the 3 weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been the only Australian I’ve known to this point. Food wasn’t being served on the boat, so my new friends (inclusive of the American I met the previous day) and I had delicious Subway. Fun fact: they only have 4 kinds of sauces, none of which are sweet chilli. They also only possess 2 types of cheese. Amazing how much difference there is between the Subways in nations. When the boat departed, it was straight to the bar. Most expensive drinks I have ever seen. I was particularly impressed when a new French friend (Estelle) ordered the same drink as I did. Seriously, I’ve never met a girl in Australia who doesn’t drink Vodka like it was going out of fashion. We both had whiskey. Classy. The DJ must have felt pretty horrible, because no one was dancing. That being said, the DJ looked old enough to be my Grandfather, so its quite possible he just isn’t in touch with todays generation. The boat cruised around the River Thames for 4 hours. All in all, it was a swell night.

I start actual classes on Monday the 16th (3 days from now). I look forward to studying in this new environment. It’s supposedly going to get colder, yet I’ve been told this for weeks now and I’m still waiting for snow. Until then, I’m still wearing singlets inside.

I hope all of you back in Aus aren’t suffering in the hot temperatures. I do feel sorry for you all, being located in nice 15 degree weather and all.

Stay classy Aus,

Thomas.

Happy Ending? Not today.

To all my friends who I meet on exchange – so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu.

My, oh my, what a lush semester it has been; full of incredibly sassy experiences, a bit of shabu-shabu, and most of all, a lifestyle that makes returning home very hard. You know, today I had to hang my towel up myself? Can you believe it? Where was the maid? I also had to make my own breakfast, my own lunch and my own dinner. Unreal, isn’t it? And if that wasn’t enough, to make matters worse, my bed doesn’t make itself like it did in Thailand! How the convict Australians ever survived here long enough to breed Bogans, I’ll never know. Moreover, it was so cold here over the festive season, with some days only reaching as high as 25 degrees. Where’s Bangkok’s consistent 34? Well, actually, the day I departed Bangkok, the weather report said it was “cool’ – only 31 degrees. I knew then it was time to swaschbuckle out of there.

So, after 71 hours of flying, three complementary upgrades, seven over-night buses, a flood, five exams, 100’s of acquaintances, 10’s of friends,  food poisoning and eight countries later, my overseas exchange comes to an end…. and just like that I ended up attending Christmas day at my mother’s boyfriend’s late wife’s sister’s house.

But what happened for the last month and a half?

Firstly, we had exams. Well… shoot me down and call me Charlie, but this period must have been the most chilled exam period I’ve ever had! You  may think that sounds like the bee’s knees. Well let me tell you, bee’s knees are hard to live with 24/7. Gosh I feel dumb. I usually try to limit studying to 2-hours per subject per semester, but this semester I really had to force myself to cut it down to 30-minutes… in total. I really recommend doing your exchange in Thailand for the cultural experience, not the intellectual stimulation. For one of my subjects (with a take home, open book exam), the teacher thought  you hadn’t understood the concepts if you paraphrased and wrote in your own words. So, I copied chunks out of the text book and sent it in. Her reply was: “There were a number of miss spellings in your exam. I gather you had a lot to write in a short period of time. Your grade is A.” Hit the nail on the head there, didn’t you sweetie! I’ve never copied a text book that fast in my life! I also got an A in Marketing Strategy from the best and most beautiful lecturer I’ve ever had. She was snazzy, noyce, diff’rent, un-ewes-ual. Educated at Stanford and a real people’s person, she had outstanding fashion sense.  It’s amazing how much more effort you  (well, I) put into a subject when you (I) like the lecturer. Nonetheless, I was disappointed with my B+ in International Marketing. Talk about no reward for no effort. Also, there was another subject called Current Issues in Finance, which you think would be really interesting during this period – with the looming collapse of the Euro-zone, a recent GFC and the speculation of a second one… but no. Students had to rename this subject “Random Issues in Finance” after the exam had questions about the price of race-horse breeding, the Thai wine industry and the salaries of football club managers. If you see the ‘current’ and ‘finance’ part of those questions, please let me know. Bearing in mind, this is from a lecturer who took no shame in asking his female students to come around to his house to “drink lots.” “I got such a vibe from him the other day,” the girls would tell me.

Anyway – with a quick trip home in the middle for my mummsey’s 50th, the exam period was over in a flash and it was time to say goodbye. Goodbyes are not my strong point. I hate them. Especially (slash only) when I like the people. But such is life, and on the bus to Thailand’s north I went. Having previously visited Chiang Mai, this time I went to Chiang Rai to go trekking. When telling the tour guide what I wanted, I emphasised that the trek had to be adventurous, hard (ish), and to not see any tourists in the Hill Tribe village we would stay in.  Snaps for him – he certainly fulfilled all the criteria, apart from the ‘ish’ after hard!

A French girl and I set off with our tour guide and his local guide to a village 6-hours walk away. It was a nice walk, through bamboo forests, along rivers, through tea plantations and up mountains. Our hill-tribe village was really great, with only three houses (one who is usually occupied by an old lady who does nothing apart from smoke opium all day, but she was sadly in hospital at the time). There were lots of kids there who were thrilled to have us play with them, give them stuff to rot their teeth, and had energy way in excess of what I’ve ever had, which was nice. Although, come dinner time I felt the tables turned and we were suddenly the animals in the zoo, as the entire family and the tour guides sat in a circle around us watching us eat our chicken curry and vegetables and omelette whilst the children waited for the leftovers. Awkward.

Our Village

I wonder what kind of effect us tourists have on the children’s development… it must be strange having these white people come and stay with you all the time, be nice to you, give you stuff, play with you, take hundred’s of photos, and then leave never to be seen again… it must be even worse if all those strange white people do is smoke opium. In fact, I think the same about volunteers working in orphanages for a few months; the child finally has someone in their life who shows them love and kindness, only to leave them soon after. From the child’s perspective, I’m sure it feels like constant rejection and neglect from people you love.

The crazy kids!

The next morning we were up at the crack of sparrows, wishing we’d taken something to make sleeping on the hay-mattress less hay-fever inducing. The tour guide said, “Today is easy. We’ll stop lots along the way, as we only have about two hours of walking.” Boy was he wrong. After half an hour, we stopped to switch local guides to someone who knew the area better (apparently). In reality, we should have been suspicious from the start when we saw him drink half a bottle of rice whiskey (horrible stuff) at 9 am as if it was water and he’d just spent thirty days lost in the desert. So we inevitably took a wrong turn, which, you know, would have been fine if we got back on track straight away. But we didn’t. We spent two hours CLIMBING up a mountain – get that: climbing, not walking. I have to tell you that we were definitely off the beaten track; the road could not have been anymore less travelled. However, rest assured knowing multiple tracks were definitely beaten with a machete during our short time in the area. Once we reached the top of the mountain, our guide announced that we had walked up the wrong mountain. Great. So we started walking down, only to realise 30-minutes later that we’d walked down the wrong side. So we tried another side. And another side. And another side. NO JOKES. Each time, after walking quite far down, he would announce that we would need to walk back up. So, in the end we went back to where we started at the bottom of the mountain and walked up another mountain. Now I know why the Vietnamese ‘won’ the Vietnam war. The jungle is a very confusing place, especially when you are drunk or cannot see above the two metre grass! So, again, it was no surprise when we walked up a second wrong mountain (Again, NO JOKES). By the time we got to the bottom of this mountain, the sun had set and we were not so wrapped that the tour guide was now sober enough to know where we were and said the village we were visiting was in fact on top of the third mountain. “TAKE US HOME,” we said. And he did. Thank Buddha for that. I was knackered.

Tea plantation

I then took a two day boat up the Mekong in Laos to Luang Prabang. Laos is so lush. So many beautiful mountains (that you don’t need to walk up), full of jungle and barely any development. I had to keep reminding myself that this was in fact real life, as after seeing so many ‘tribal’ huts and boats in museums throughout my entire life, now that the authentic thing was actually in front of me it didn’t seem real. After visiting Luang Prabang which reeked of nothing but French colonisation, tourists and croissants, I stayed two nights in a village 7-hours away from civilisation –it was cool to be among local Laos people. But there were still tourists, so a German chick and I walked to an even more remote village. However, we got lost along the way and ended up in a harvested rice field somewhere. We said, “All we need now is someone to come up to us with a shot-gun and tell us to get off his land.” And as if he had heard us say that, an angry man with a shot gun arrived and told us to get off his land. We were quite scared at the coincidence (or something more mysterious) that we didn’t hesitate to obey his orders. Luckily, we soon found a local from our destination and helped him carry the five huge bamboo logs he had cut down to build a house (which were so heavy I wish I never offered!). But, as a result, his father insisted on giving us countless shots of homemade Lao-Lao whiskey.  I couldn’t really understand why he was giving us so much. He kept saying “Later, later,” and we kept saying, “okay, yes, later” and then he’d force us to do another shot. It turns out he was actually saying, “A little, little,” and we kept accepting. Stupid us = drunk us. Nevertheless, we were grateful for his hospitality. I also visited a different village and ate a soup. There was a type of meat in the soup I hadn’t seen before, which made me wish I had seen the following sight five minutes before eating and not five minutes after…

Yes, that is what you think it is...

Real boats used by real people!

I then went to Vang Vieng to meet my friend, Stefanie. If you are a bogan, you would have without doubt heard of this as the home of tubing (floating down the river in a tire-tube, stopping off at bars along the way and doing death-inducing activities like the “slide of death”). If you are not a bogan, it’s a real sassy place… not! Every restaurant and bar plays a different season of Friends or Family guy all day with classy tourists lying there watching, and I wish I was able to tell you about the outrageous things people had painted all over their bodies, but I can’t as QUT would get quite angry. Let’s just say drunk people and pens don’t mix. Nor do drunk people and swings. My Dutch friend had been there a week earlier and belly-flopped from quite a height. After lying face down in the water for a minute, people started to realise that he wasn’t joking and was in fact unconscious. Luckily he was revived, but considering the number of people who die here each year, it was very scary! But it was a really fun time – like the full moon party but during the day, so you can see how trashy it is. The highlight would be  50-year-old Chinese man and the 60-year-old Australian man with a broken arm enjoying themselves amongst the teenagers. Why they thought it was okay for them to be there, I do not know. Please promise me that will never be you. Also cool was the outstanding number of hunk’a spunks around the place. I felt ravished just looking at them. People-watching here is a must! There are many more activities to do near Vang Vieng, my favourite being cave visiting. Have you ever walked 800m into long narrow cave with no one else in it and turned the light off? If you haven’t, don’t. It’s really, really scary. And you’ll realise you aren’t alone after-all.

Sunset's are beautiful!

Stefanie and I then made the last stop on our tour together – to The Plain of Jars. It was a six hour drive away, over and around the Laos mountains. ‘twasn’t a great time to have food poisoning, and I really hope people on the bus knew it was in fact food poisoning and not a hang-over, as I already felt embarrassed for asking the bus to stop twice, allowing me to chunder everywhere outside and not inside.  Regardless, the highlight was when Stefanie asked, “Sam… stupid question, but what is a jar?” I was impressed she had agreed to come to such a place and bought the ticket without knowing what a jar was. It was a beautiful area, with thousands of jars scattered around the place. Archaeologists say the jars were used as graves for people to decompose in before they were cremated. The locals say they were used to store Loa-Loa Whiskey in. Stefanie and I came up with a few of our own explanations: 1) used to catch water in during the wet seasons, and store it during the dry season. 2) a place to put naughty children in. The smaller the jar, the naughtier the child must have been. 3) a pre-hearing aid invention. You put an old person in the jar and then talk to them. The echo helped them hear. 4) a pre-telephone invention. Each cup was connected to another cup in another village with a string. 5) Most likely of all the ideas, a brothel. The size and shape of the jar signalled the size of the person performing the service and the type of stuff they might enjoy e.g. large jars on their side signalled there was enough room to use whips. If a person was occupied, the lid would be on to intensify the sounds. Otherwise, they would sit on the jar’s edge. What do you think their purpose was?

Jars and Jars and Jars

In my personal opinion, the coolest thing about Laos is what you see when you drive from city to city. There are many, many villages along the highways, which provide an excellent opportunity for perving on locals. I just wish the shutter speed on my camera was faster so I could show you pictures! There are woman washing themselves in the rivers whilst wearing sarongs, children carrying buckets of water up from the town’s well, men sitting around now that the rice harvest is over drinking too much whiskey for 9am,  three year olds collection road gravel from the middle of a ‘highway’, little girls carrying stacks of fluffy grass for their mattresses, women standing there doing nothing but standing there, workers tar-sealing the road using a bucket, motorbikes with 20-30 three-dozen egg trays strapped to the back, countless cows and buffalo just crossing the street, babies playing on the side of the road, neglected looking buses broken down, motorbikes spread across the road having been hit by a truck… and the list goes on!

Don't want to get dark skin!

A generation or two missing...

Defend the village, little girl!

But all good things have an end, except a sausage which has two. In other words, that brought me to the end of my travels and I went back in Bangkok! Luckily many exchange students were also there, so I got to see them again! Man they are groovy! The cool thing about living in such a city is you can go to really fancy places and afford it. So, we spent the last two nights at sky-bars, one of them being from the Hangover II. Not only do you get 10 people bowing when you arrive, there always seems to be a different, really beautiful Russian girl in a really short dress each time I go to one of these bars. Of course, the only natural thing to do then is accidently drop your card and see what coloured underwear she’s wearing. Pink polka-dots.

On top of the world!

Thank you to all my wonderful Thai and farang friends that I meet on exchange. It doesn’t make a happy ending to say goodbye to you… You were chic, classy, crazy (!), sassy and tastey. I hope life is good to you, that you stay naughty and remember to go to the doctor for a check-up when you get home!

You know I love you,

XO XO

P.S. I went to a restaurant the other day. Do you know what was on the menu? Dried shit-ake mushroom soup. I went mad, didn’t I? Dried shit-ake mustrooms. You don’t want that in soup, do you? You don’t want that in anything! I’ve eaten a lot of things, from guinea pigs to haggis, but I am not eating anything with dried shit (ake) in the title!

P.P.S. The last story isn’t my story, but I thought it was funny. Catherine Tate is very funny.

P.P.P.S. Who’s the lady boy?

Me with our hotel staff!

 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Australia!

As of the 30th of December (2011), I have been residing with my Great Aunt and Uncle in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I’ll be staying with them for the duration of my exchange. It’s a lovely area, hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to take photos.

For New Years Eve (Day), I had my first adventures into London. My first stop was Oxford Street, which is apparently the busiest street in the world. Full of retail stores and a great deal of double decker buses. Next on the agenda was a personal favourite, Abbey Road! This is where the Beatles had recorded. Several tourists were rudely interupting traffic to mimic that album cover everyone knows. You know the one. Honestly, It’s kind of sad to see grown adults be so ignorant and rude to inhabitants of a foreign country, but hey, I guess that happens everywhere. That being said, I don’t see that kind of behaviour in Brisbane, but I suppose I haven’t seen a tourist attracting like that in Brisbane (that would literally halt trafic).

Abbey Road Studio

Abbey Road

Farewell to Lennon

Next was Buckingham Palace. Supposedly the Queen was in, as the flag was raised. I seriously wonder why such sensitive information is made public. The Guards look so cool though, they don’t even twitch. Interesting trivia, Scotts Guards don’t have a plume, whilst the other Guards of Buckingham Palace do. I wonder if their is a reason for that. There is also a park near the palace (it’s name I can’t remember) abundant with squirels, swans and the like. Apparently it’s illegal to kill a swan, as in, it carries a prison sentence. Yet its legal to kill a Scottsman with a crossbow from a certain number of paces in some place in the UK. They should probably consider amending that law.

Next was Big Ben and the London Eye. Big Ben actually refers to the bell within the tower itself. The London Eye looks awesome (unfortunately I don’t think I have any photos of it).

Big Ben Clock Tower

Buckingham Palace Gate

Statue outside front of Buckingham Palace

Unicorn Statue at Buckingham

As it was New Years, I decided to wait for the fireworks display. I stood in the one spot for 8 hours to get the best view. They were brilliant. At around 10 pm, A live radio show was broadcasting an event, then at 12, their was a massive fireworks display. After all the fun had occured, it was a mission to get back home. I live about 30 minutes away from London. It took 4 hours to get home. Thousands and thousands of people came to see these fireworks, and as a consequence, it actually took up to 5 minutes to move even 10 metres, the streets were so heavily congested it was insane. Apparently, strike action occured with the people who ran the London Tube, thus it was very difficult to get onto a tube. Heres a condensed version of what happened:

Wade through a massive mosh pit of drunken, rude people for 6 kilometres, going from station to station, to find a station that still had the capacity to accept people. Avoid drunken lunatics, try not to stand on glass, and follow police on horseys directions.

A lot of people were understandably pissed off. I’m not quite sure on the numbers, but for a city with an infrastructure as efficient as London, it’s hard to imagine that it lacked the capacity to deal with such a large number of people. I wish I actually knew how many people were out and about that night, because it was enough to halt the Tube, and the lives of the people in the city itself. I feel sorry for the poor suckers in their cars, took them 10 minutes to travel 100 metres. When I got home, I had someone elses vomit on my boots. All in all, A FANTASTIC evening (Full serious, not being sarcastic).

Still feeling a little alienated I guess, minor cultural differences make me want to shake my head. Brittish seem to smother everything in butter. Guess they need the cholesterol to survive the winter. Also, esculator ettiquette, they stay to the right to allow people to pass. I was scolded for not doing this, as I assumed it was the same as Australia (keeping to the left, like how we drive). Oh well, It’s all a learning experience. Have university orientation next Monday. Wish me luck.

Stay class Australia,

Tom