On the Gold Coast in Australia for a week now, and all is fine.
The start of this Aussie odyssey was a bit…odd, as the flight was delayed from Haneda and we were obviously going to miss our connection in Sydney for Brisbane. It was only in the afternoon of the departure day, Saturday 6th August, that it was confirmed that we could all be rebooked onto the same flight. The flight itself was alright, even though the sensation of flying with 20 students was quite different from the usual, although much less stress than flying to India with the same number. The last hour of the flight to Sydney I was on my feet walking round checking and rechecking their landing cards and answering questions about immigration and transfers. That is my job, and certainly was better than sitting feeling sleepy after an overnight flight, when I could only look on enviously as the lad next to me put his head down on the little drop-down table and slept for about five hours straight.
After arriving in Brisbane there was some anxiety as we waited for our driver to collect us, but the transfer to the Griffith Uni Gold Coast campus took only about an hour. Then the students were given their uni packs, told to read the schedule for the next day carefully, with an 8:30am start, and then their home stay families stepped up, and the introductions started and they were carried off by people of all the different range of Aussie families, from Chinese to Philippino, Hungarian to Irish, and even plain old English Aussie. The look on the face of the most socially challenged boy with the worst English skills as he was greeted by his host mother with a Philippina accent so strong it could have peeled a pineapple at 10 paces was a sight to behold, but the warmth of the welcome was clear.
I was bundled off into a taxi and ended up at my rather swish and fancy apartments in Broadwater Parklands, an area of southern Southport right near the Nerang River and close to Southport and Main Beach. The area was massively developed over the past few years, with the G:link tram system connecting the area to the uni, Southport, Surfers’ Paradise, and Broadbeach, and with great big buildings being thrown up all over the place. Mine is relatively low rise at about five or six floors. It is a bit like my Cambridge sabbatical place, but newer and slightly smaller, with fancier fittings and big veranda with table and chairs outside that overlooks a small park, although the big buildings to the east block out most sun other than for a few hours a day. Woolies (yes, Woolworths, which here is a supermarket) is a 2mins walk. As is the tram (which takes 12 mins to the uni). Main Beach less than 20mins. Surfers' (Paradise, but us locals never use the second part) is a 10 min tram ride, and about one hour walk back along the beach.
I had tea, took stock of what my kitchen offered, quite a lot really, and I wish I had a kitchen like this in Japan (like in Cambridge, they will have to break my fingers to prize me from this kitchen, with its marble counters and dishwasher, and large, LARGE oven), and then I proceeded to the large shopping centre, Australia Fair, which was still open, and the bounteous goodies that Coles supermarket offered. Needing only stuff for dinner (salad) and breakfast, I bought half the store and proceeded to struggle home with it all, my knuckles scraping the ground by the time I got back, and settled down to my nice salad while watching a Harry Potter film on the big telly, and eventually found myself in the (brilliant) shower, and bed. And then couldn’t sleep. I think the bed was simply too comfortable and too big (I still haven’t explored all of it: I’m frightened).
In all, life could be worse. Kids are doing better in class than I thought, weather is great, beaches are nice, shops and trams are nearby, and my flat is brilliant.
I did make a mistake coming to Oz. I brought a teapot here, which was a good thing, but no coffee making equipment. I've been on instant at home and mixed quality shop-bought out and about. I was in Brisbane on Thursday and very much needed a coffee, after a very early start from the uni down here and 90 mins in a taxi with a student going home early to see his fading granny. This has been the only sad point of the trip. He started the course on Monday and got the call from his family on Tuesday morning. I was told at lunchtime, and then the next 24 hours or so were spent trying to coordinate between Daito Bunka Uni in Japan and Griffith Uni here, and the travel agent in Tokyo to cancel and reschedule his departure booking, try and sort out his credits for uni, and see if he could get any refunds, with only minor success. He kept his spirits up, and on Wednesday afternoon we had a wildlife presentation in class, where we had a chance to get very close to snakes, lizards, birds, little things, and a lovely wombat, Bumpy! I stroked him!! The kids went into super-kawaii over-cute mode, and just loved it, but I was very surprised that most of them wanted to pose with the black-headed python round their shoulders, but some of them couldn’t stand touching a small lizard.
After that I took them to the uni bar and told them how to order different beers, wines, and cocktails: bad teacher! They loved it, the lads played pool, and nobody could understand why there was a raffle going on where everyone got really excited about winning a ‘meat packet’. When I explained it was raw meat, the students wondered how the winners would carry it home. When I said ‘on the bus’, they just fell about laughing. It was a good way for one lad to say goodbye to his friends.
So, on Thursday, after guiding the taxi driver to the wrong address to pick the lad up at 7:30am, and then phoning to get the right address, and being caught in traffic, and negotiating with lovely Qantas staff (they gave him his own row of seats, on compassionate grounds) I needed a coffee and something sweet in nice, calm surroundings. Having had several poor coffees thus far I wanted something better. I ended up in the Brisbane botanical gardens, looking for their tea shop. It turned out to be very small, outside seating only, all taken, and a small black coffee in a paper cup to take away and a very small choco-caramel shortbread square in a bag cost more than five quid. Horrified I grumbled and stumbled my way to a nice seat by the river. Tired, hot, and needing refreshment I opened the coffee. All was well in the world. The taste was almost an afterthought. The aroma was amazing. Best coffee since I've been here. The square was lovely too. The world seemed much better. I felt strong enough to go and buy books. And then eat a nice late Thai lunch, at Phat Elephant, the same place I went to last month where they gave me the wrong dish, minus a fried egg (in the photo), and the starter came after the main, and the missing egg arrived just as I got ready to pay the bill. This time, all was perfect, and the egg came with my meal! It was great.
Friday, I invited the kids to my place (big mistake!) and they had fun, we went to the beach, and then they brought half of it back and dumped it in my bathroom. We also had another five Japanese join us, so 25 of us in my flat. With lots of sand. Everyone had a great time. I later checked the guide to my room and the limit on guest numbers was four.
Saturday we went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and that was great. Stroked ‘roos, and saw loads of other stuff, like crocs, wallabies, dingoes, Tasmanian Devils, very small and cute, and a sheep shearing show. Might not sound like much but it was a good day. The top event was an amazing bird show, where the amazing birds flew just above our heads while we were told a lot about them, their conservation etc. The kids held koalas, and were in super-cute overload again, although one lad got poohed on. Koala Collateral. The visit ended with a really good aborigine song and dance performance from the local tribe, explaining about relationships with animals, how they hunted etc. they got folks up at the end to do dances with them and it was a great end to the visit. The kids were asleep within two minutes of getting back on the bus home.
Sunday was clean and tidy up day, learning how to operate my washer and dryer, and then to Surfers’ on the tram, seeing the beautiful and less than beautiful people, and then walking back along the beach in the surf, and watching the kite surfers do their amazing stuff. The only other place I’ve seen them is back home in Redcar, although the beaches here don’t offer the same iconic views of mothballed steel works. Shame. Poor deprived folks of Surfers’.
Today, after class, I went looking for coffee making equipment, even though I have less than 3 weeks left. I ended up with an odd contraption. It is a glass and plastic beaker, of the type people carry around all day. This is different in that it contains a plunger, for coffee, or even tea. I brought it home and the coffee wasn't bad. Not as good as Brisbane, but not bad. And it cost a fiver.
Life here is very nice, but I can feel the yearning for some sense of culture, and the sight of a building older than me. I don't think I could live in this immediate area for very long. Maybe somewhere like Brisbane might be nice, and one of the better reasons for being there would be as I met up on Wednesday with Carolyn and her son Max on Wednesday for a lovely chat, wander on Main Beach, and lunch in the surfers’ club. They live in Brisbane and I can see why they would be very happy there. It is a great city and within easy reach of both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. My maid (from Taiwan) also told me that the Tambourine Mountains are lovely, and she showed me photos of the glowworms in the caves there, so the area has so much to offer. Next Saturday, North Stradbroke Island! Strady!! I visited with my mate Cath last month after the conference and it was just amazing, eating fish and chips on Captain Cook’s seat, seeing dolphins and whales, and the amazing views along the coast. I can’t wait.
More dull stories to follow.