01 August 2015

The Khagan Irregular: Blogging When I Feel Like It Since 2014 (2:12 – 01.08.2015)

The Nitty-Gritty of Life
Wow! It has been a long time since I blogged last. Sorry about that but, honestly, things have gotten rather crazy since my May post. Theses are ongoing, social life is questionable, computer fun time is irregular, board games are getting dusty, and my suitcase is worn out. With that all being said, this blog—and most of my others—have been placed on the back-burner indefinitely, hence its second name change in six months. It's nothing personal—I like you all very much (except you in the back, stop staring at me that way. It's creepy!)—but blogging is just not the most important thing I can be doing. I've neglected my movie review blog and haven't done reviews for either of the new Carcassonne expansions, but I'll get to those someday soon I hope. I also have plans to write a children's book, but that hasn't materialised yet either. On the plus side, I have updated my Academia.edu account! You can now read my master's thesis, free of charge (tips accepted).

Anyway, stay tuned. Keep watching my Facebook feed. Follow me on twitter (@whaleyland) and always remember, the more you comment and talk about my postings, the more likely I am to do more of them. Yeah, I'm selfish that way. What can I say.

To In-Sydney...AND BEYOND!
So, off I went, into the wild Australian East Coast! Kara and I had a double-doozy of conferences to attend in Australia but we made the most of our time there all the same. Kara had never been to Australia before I was last there when I was eight, so that hardly counts. We began our trip in Sydney and ended in Brisbane. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time or the money to really go anywhere else outside those two places. Both places were also broken up by the conferences. Kara went to a Digital Humanities conference for the first week we were there and we had three days afterwards to wonder around the city. Then in Brisbane, we had five days off before going to the ANZAMEMS (Australia & New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies), which was for me but Kara went to all the days as well and even presented there. But first, the fun parts.

Sydney is an amazing city. It is like San Francisco ran up to Seattle for the weekend and somehow had a threesome with London, and this city was the result. I mean, they have a Space Needle. Sydney is probably the most multicultural place I've ever been, and I've been to many places. There are literally shopping malls everywhere and most of them are hidden underground. I mean, they are under residential towers, town hall, city parks, historic buildings, and beside subway terminals. Oh yeah, and they have a London-style subway system! I mean, they literally stole the logos and everything straight from Victorian London. It doesn't have quite the same breadth, but the city is a tad bit smaller, too. The geography of the area is gnarly, with rivers and streams meandering all over the place, and islands and peninsulas littered along the coast. The Sydney Opera House is pretty cool to behold, but I was much more impressed with the beautiful arched truss bridge that spans the harbour behind it. It's freaking beautiful! The Rocks area, which was the original inmate colony of Botany Bay, is now a hip little café district with a weekly arts and crafts fair that runs down multiple streets. Another district called Darling Harbour is a touristy area like Pier 39 in San Francisco, with a bunch of trendy expensive restaurants (literally, like 25 of them), an enclosed zoo, an aquarium, a Madame Trussauds, Australia's only IMAX theatre (where we watched Jurassic World 3D), a maritime museum, and, of course, a shopping mall. The old train bridge over the harbour has since been converted into a quaint pedestrian bridge, and there is a large stadium at the bottom of the harbour which was all cordoned off because Channing Tatum was arriving for the world premiere of Magic Mike XXL.  We also saw a production of the musical Les Misérables while in Sydney, which was a treat.

All Bris and No Bane

800 Years Ago, I, King John of England, signed some
piece of magnate crap and now everybody remembers
me for what I never wanted to do. I was blackmailed!
Brisbane was a very different city than Sydney. While it did have its downtown area, the skyscrapers were lower and the malls were fewer. The city was much more like Los Angeles than New York in that it sprawled outward rather than upward. And just to be a nuisance to everybody, the Brisbane River meanders all over the place through the city, forcing bridges to cross it frequently. About half those bridges are toll brides, and Kara and I had a car this time around. We stayed at my mother's penpal's house about 15 minutes from downtown via the main motorway. Having a home base to return to each night was very nice and our host was absolutely amazing. We've adopted her as our new aunt. Kara and her got in long discussions almost every night about politics, the medical industry, insurance, Kiwi-Aussie relations, Kiwi-US relations, Aussie-US relations, etc. The house also catered to one grouchy little kitty and a tiding of Magpies who came up to the door and ate directly out of our hands! The little monsters. We took mostly day trips during the first days we were there, venturing down to Surfers Paradise—which is pretty much the same thing as Miami—and up to three different venues. The Sunday before the conference, we went to a medieval reenactment fair which was actually really fun. They had tons of camps run by different medieval-dressed people, lots of little themed shops, reenactment centres, old-timey photo shoot, jousting, sword fighting, gypsies, and a bunch of other fun stuff. It took up most of the day.

Me presenting at ANZAMEMS. Topic is visible on screen.
On the following Tuesday, we began the long five-day ANZAMEMS conference which was primarily people talking about history. I mean, I'm not sure what else I can really say about it. Conferences are essential to CV-building but they are a lot of talking. In the end, only a handful of the presentations especially interested me, and virtually none directly impacted on me, but I'm still glad I went. I met a lot of other young historians and bonded more closely with my own Canterbury peers. The next conference is being held in Wellington, which is closer to home, so I suppose I will be attending again in 2017.

View of New South Wales from the crater rim outside Surfers' Paradise.
We flew out the day after the last day of the conference and had to almost immediately resume our studies. The flights were pretty stable, minus a few bumps and noisy kids, and our neighbours were never too annoying. Still, we probably won't be travelling again soon, except for short weekend trips.

Animals Here, There, and Everywhere
A wombat.
One thing I skipped above were the three wildlife parks we visited during our travels. Our first zoo was in Sydney—the Taronga Zoo—and we needed a boat to get out there! Yeah, pretty awesome. It was like Jurassic World, except for that whole eating people part. We got a good preview of all the amazing Australian animals, from kangaroos to duck-billed platypuses. We didn't get to see the deadly snakes because Kara doesn't like them, but we did get to see a few alligators and a bunch of non-native animals. It felt very similar to the San Diego Zoo, especially since they had a gondola and the zoo was constructed up on a hill. It was also about the same age, being founded in the early 1900s and expanded through the years.

A red panda, also known as a firefox.
A kookaburra. 
In Brisbane, we visited the Australia Zoo, which is owned by the Irwin family of Steve Irwin fame. And, I'll tell you what, you don't miss that fact once in the park. Steve's family is everywhere in the park, with his daughter Bindi used in marketing everywhere and his son, Robert, now somehow a palaeontologist (he's like 10). But the park was pretty cool. It had a lot of crocodiles and alligators, a ton of Australian animals in general, and a fair amount of other creatures including some cute tigers. Surprisingly, they didn't have any lions and their elephants have disappeared without explanation, but it was a fun day all the same. They have a huge amphitheatre where they do a crocodile show each day so we got to see some handlers coerce a croc into attacking. Pretty fun stuff. The next day we visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and got up close and personal with a bunch of different animals. You are allowed to wonder through two separate fields to pet and feed kangaroos and wallabies.  I also got sneezed on by a wombat, which was a...unique...experience. And then when we were pretty much done with everything else, we got our photos holding a koala. Definitely a highlight although we only held him for a few seconds and weren't allowed to scratch him or anything. Still, I think this animal park felt the most Australian of the three. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the area, though Australia Zoo and Taronga Zoo were also both quite fun.

A wallaby in its dirt pile.
A dingo standing sentinel.
A koala and her joey.
Four lorikeets eating from Kara's food tray.

A Tasmanian devil on the prowl.

Burning Bacon
The Geláre cinnamon/chocolate waffle. Mmmm....
Nothing has changed much with our food situation except we are growing increasingly tired of the foods we've fallen back on. During the trip, we switched to having cereal for breakfast for the first time since October 2014. It was weird and while we sort of liked it, we found ourselves quite hungry by lunch time every day. We've since returned to eggs and bacon. We also did a tremendous amount of eating out during this trip, more than we really could afford or wanted to do, but we did get some variety. We got a fully paid-for steakhouse dinner, a free catered restaurant feast, and a casual night on the town at a Japanese restaurant. I struggled at all of them, as I do, but fortunately most places have chicken, which I'll eat. Otherwise, we found ourselves getting pizza twice, Subway once, McDonalds twice, oporto chicken twice, ice cream and gelato a few times, and random other snacks here and there. We even found a fun little place called Pancake on the Rocks, which is apparently a chain, although we went to its original store. There are also two amazing dessert places in Australia called Geláre and Chocolateria San Churro. Definitely check them out if you are in the neighbourhood.

Ups & Downs
While I can't say that we did any scheduled walking on this trip, we certainly got our exercise in most of the days. Me especially. During the week I was alone in Sydney, I went on walks all over the place, probably covering around 2km minimum per day not counting the usual walking around associated with life. The sheer number of shopping malls made it impossible not to want to walk around, and then with Kara the zoos and animal parks are pretty much all-day affairs. Our only dedicated hike was punctuated multiple times by short car drives, but it was at a national park near Surfers Paradise south of Brisbane. It overlooked the rim of this massive volcano that had collapsed millions of years ago. The walls of the volcano still were standing and there were hiking trails all around it, so we got some excellent views of waterfalls, the ocean, the other end of the crater, and just nature in general. We even got to see a wild wallaby run into the woods on some back road we took. Pretty cool.

Thesis Schmeshish
Things have been progressing more smoothly with my thesis of late. During the first week in Sydney, I dedicated my four days alone to working on Chapter 3 of the document. The chapter is arguably the most important to the work as a whole since it grounds my theory on a number of historical events. Everything that comes after this will relate back to it in some way. I just submitted the draft on Friday after some comments from Kara and two other students. I think it's good, but we'll have to see what my supervisor says. This chapter will likely become Chapter 2 in the next revision, and the current chapter 2 will get rearranged a bit and become Chapter 4. The new Chapter 3 is what I am working on yet. This will be a bit more fun as I get to demonstrate how quickly the ideas developed by the guys in the previous chapter got screwed up right after they died. Fun! Fun! Fun! I love dynastic disorder.

The Kiwi Way
Comparisons between Australians and New Zealanders abound aplenty here. It can't be helped since so many Kiwis travel to Australia in the winter and so many Australians vacation here in the summer. But one thing that we began noticing almost immediately when we were in Australia is how much more polite Australians are compared to Kiwis. Granted, this is not a universal thing—we have found many nice Kiwis—but I think the general timidity of Kiwis comes out accidentally as rudeness or indifference. This begins at the basic level of the store clerk, who in Australia smiles and offers polite chit-chat and in New Zealand keeps a straight face and says little-to-nothing. Even when I try to chat, as I do, I almost get nothing from them here. In Australia, meanwhile, it can be difficult to disengage from some clerks! Obviously this can be a bad thing, but it is certainly better than a complete lack of interest. Whether this is linked to "Tall Poppy Syndrome" or just a more British air about them, the Kiwis are just not as friendly or sociable as the Aussies. From clerks to amusement park staff to conference attendees, we saw the same pattern.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly Irregular is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!