Aussie cuisine: American food, now with kangaroo meat

Hey y’all! I’m going to be in New Zealand for the next week sans internet and computer. But, I’ll be writing a travel journal along the way for one of my friends. With her permission, I’ll be scanning it into here for your viewing pleasure!

My friend messaged me on Facebook the other day.

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It’s true that I took a lot of food photos in Vietnam. However, I have not done the same in Australia. For one, I’m always eating dorm food every day, as the International House has a dining hall. Secondly, Australia doesn’t seem to have its own distinct cuisine. Like the USA, Australia is diverse. As a result, the restaurants around Sydney are a mash-up of all sorts of different foods and cultures.

That’s not to say that Australian food is exactly like the USA, however. Oz has its own little novelties to be enjoyed. Such as:

1. Vegemite

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Australia’s most notorious food. One day, some beer company looked at its leftover yeast extract and decided: Dang, I bet that would be tasty. The company then hired a food technologist to turn the yeast waste product into an edible spread. After a little autolysis, onions, and celery extract, he managed to make a sort of sticky black paste… thing.

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Australians lap this stuff up, but to me, it’s on the same level as Japanese natto. Wikipedia describes it as “salty, bitter, and malty.” I describe it as “an acquired taste.” When I’m being polite about it.

2. Lamingtons

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Unlike vegemite, this Australian creation is actually delicious. It’s simply a sponge cake cube covered in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. Yet somehow it’s so light and fluffy and tasty and my dining hall occasionally serves them in huge trays.

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3. Pavlova

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On July 25th, my residential college celebrated Christmas in July, where they served this yummy dessert!

Named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this dessert consists of a light, meringue center surrounded by a crisp crust. It’s usually topped by fruit. Australia and New Zealand are actually fighting over which country invented this dessert (though, according to Wikipedia, the evidence points to New Zealand) but either way, this stuff is delish. It’s usually eaten only during holidays, though.

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4. Anzac cookies

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Yet another dessert? You bet! Anzac cookies taste a bit like the oatmeal raisin cookies I’ve had at home– probably because they’re made with rolled oats. But the recipe also includes coconut and golden syrup, making this cookie into something distinctly Aussie.

5. Beetroot

Beetroot is a thing in Australia. Australians like to shred and pickle their beets and then stick them into burgers. (They like to stick fried eggs into their burgers too– which, by the way, is the BEST IDEA EVER) The result is a surprisingly pleasant taste.

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They also stick pineapple into their ham sandwiches, too, much like the concept of the Hawaiian pizza.

6. Kangaroo

You read that right: Australians eat kangaroo. In fact, you can easily purchase kangaroo meat from any supermarket. Kangaroos are surprisingly common in Australia, in fact. They’re a pest to farmers. They overgraze Australia’s already-sparse plains. It’s come to the point where kangaroos are a huge road hazard. Think deer in the USA, but worse.

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Like deer, however, kangaroo isn’t an everyday meat. It’s very lean and gamey and very low in fat. In fact, there’s been a recent movement known as “kangatarianism,” where people restrict their diets to fruits, vegetables, and kangaroo meat. The argument is that kangaroos are not only naturally occurring (since they can live and thrive in the wild without human care or pastureland) but their methane emissions are much, much lower than that of cows.

When in Australia, do as the Australians do. A couple of friends and I ran over to Newtown and grabbed some kangaroo burgers.

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Roo burgers my friends and I got at Moo Gourmet Burgers, a burger joint in Newtown.

And how was it?

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7. The Flat White

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The “flat white” is a coffee beverage developed in the 1980’s. Think latte, only with less foamy and more velvety milk. There’s a whole technical debate on what exactly defines a flat white versus a latte, but I’m no barista. I just like to enjoy these at the many adorable cafes in Sydney. (Sydney, surprisingly, has a huge cafe scene!)

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Here’s one in Glebe that I happen to be charmed by– Sappho Books. The front is a bookstore, and tucked in the back is a little cafe and bar.

8. Tim Tams

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And, finally, my favorite: the Tim Tam. The Tim Tam consists of two chocolate malted biscuits, separated by some cream filling, all covered in chocolate. These very popular cookies come in all sorts of flavors.

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These things come in great big packs and are great for drowning your sorrows in at 2 in the morning. What do you do when you have 4 essays due and an exam tomorrow? Get a Tim Tam Slam.

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As far as I can remember, that’s all the novel Australian food I’ve encountered so far. Not to say that the rest of the Australian food landscape is exactly like America, though. Australia still exhibits some of that British influence in their foods, like with the popularity of the meat pie.

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Australia also lacks a lot of American chains. The Jamba Juices Chipotles, and Taco Bells that are so popular back in Boston are totally absent here. Instead– in the multicultural Sydney, at least– there are heaps of Asian restaurants on every corner. And not just take-out Chinese: there’s Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese… I thought I’d never see okonomiyaki again!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura, an izekaya in Chinatown.

So, as with all my traveling adventures, the conclusion is the same:

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But, I think I’ll survive.

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Welcome to Surf Camp Australia!– where surfing is hard, and resisting the infinite cookie jar is even harder.

You’ve heard the stereotype: all Australians are these tanned, blonde, and totally ripped surfer dudes.

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While not all Australians look like the dude above, it’s easy to see where the stereotype comes from. Australia, as a land of beautiful weather and even more beautiful beaches, is home to a very strong surfer culture. Not everyone is a surfer, true– but I have to say, whenever I go to the beaches around Sydney, there are bronzed fit dudes abound.

Well... ok, I got this picture from the internet, but people really do seem to work out all the time by the coast!

Well… ok, I got this picture from the internet, but people really do seem to work out all the time at the beach!

But I digress. As an exchange student, I was determined to get the full Australian experience. And the Australian experience, it seems, includes surfing. I signed myself up for Surf Camp Australia, where I’d leave Sydney for a weekend to learn how to surf.

TOTALLY!!

TOTALLY!!

So, last Friday, I hopped on a bus to Seven Mile Beach, a creatively named seven-mile-long beach in Gerroa, New South Wales. The surf camp was located here for a few reasons. One, the waves there are long, even, and consistent, perfect for a beginning surfer. Secondly, the waves are not too big, so all us newbies could actually handle it. Thirdly, the seven miles of the beach gave us a lot of space to surf around without hitting innocent swimmers.

After a two-hour drive south of Sydney, we arrived at the camp…

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…which included food…

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…beach cabin accommodation…

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…and most importantly, a cookie jar.

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Which was nice and all (really, it was actually very good) but we had really come for one thing: to learn how to surf.

On Saturday, then, we woke up at the crack of dawn and was led out to the beach by our instructors.

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And the lesson began.

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I’ve boogie boarded before (so cool, I know) so I was at least familiar with how to catch waves. My goal for the weekend, then, was to stand up on my board. We spent the rest of the morning attempting to do just that.

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As it turns out, there’s a bit of a learning curve for surfing. So I tried…

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…and tried…

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…and tumbled, twisted, and turned over in the waves. Basically, I did everything but stand.

Nose-diving into a wave.

Nose-diving into yet another wave. I look soooooo cooooool

No way! I wasn’t letting it end like this! I fought the waves over, and over, and over again, until at the very end of our morning session…

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I stood. I STOOD! I stood on my surfboard! Granted, I had a huge beginner’s surfboard, and the waves were made for beginners, but I did it. I jubilantly returned to camp for lunch.

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And then came our afternoon lesson.

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The waves were stronger and messier that afternoon. Soon, a lot of us beginner surfers found ourselves thrown into frustration.

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Just getting out into the ocean was a battle. By the end, I was improving a bit– I had managed to stand on my board for a little longer–

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–but I left that day with the bitter taste of “needs improvement.” 

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I was really surprised at how exhausting surfing was. I consider myself in alright shape, but by the end, I was tired. My shoulders were sore. I can see why surfers get so jacked. I definitely slept well that night.

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And I might as well have, since we had our last lesson early the next morning.

Our instructor gave us a motivational talk before we headed into the water.

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He thought I wasn’t motivated?! Hey! I was insulted. As a result, I started the day a little irritated. And it showed, as everyone else around me succeeded and I just…

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Seriously, I haven’t been that frustrated since girl’s tennis in high school. One of my friends noticed how angry I was.

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I breathed. I took a moment. I talked to an instructor, tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. And soon, lo and behold…

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Suddenly, it clicked. I wasn’t just standing on the board, but I was standing on the board for longer periods of time. I was catching waves more consistently. Soon enough, I was catching “party” waves– when multiple people ride on the same wave– with my friends.

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Don’t believe me? Eat this: one of the instructors caught me on camera. Skip ahead in the below video to 1:51 to see my awkward attempts to wave to the camera!

Surfing was difficult. It was exhausting. It was frustrating. And it was totally, completely, exquisitely awesome. It’s easy to see how people get hooked to surfing– it’s just so fun. 

And now, just like all the college kids in Boston, I have yet another reason to want to move to California. Boston, I love you, but I have to admit– surfing in the sun beats freezing in the cold any day.

That one time I drew Snorlax, pole dancing in a g-string, onstage in front of 100+ people. It happens.

Hey y’all! In this post, I mention a fellow cartoonist/artist who is way more talented than I am! Go look at her blog here! http://lollicondraws.tumblr.com/

One of my favorite things about living in Australia is my dorm, or as the Australians call it, my “residential college.” I’ve discovered that my college– the International House– is more than just a place to live. It’s a fully-functioning community. We have dances and sports tournaments and restaurant outings. The residents, despite their various backgrounds, are shockingly open and friendly. I feel so fortunate to be able to live in IH (getting a room is competitive– I had to write essays, send my transcript, and even do a Skype interview) since I’ve really been milking my time here.

One of our many events is an annual talent show known as iNight. Once a year, the IH residents organize a slew of videos, performances, and musical acts for everyone to enjoy. I know, I know: a “talent show” sounds so middle-school, but the IH is actually bursting with talent.

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So, in August, a sign-up sheet appeared in our main bulletin board. Names slowly started appearing on the list: some kids were forming a band, some others were filming a video, another was planning to sing…

I should also mention, at this point, this website– my blog– was spreading around my close acquaintances. A small community means that news travels fast, I guess. Thus, one of my friends suggested:

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And that’s that, I thought. But my blog really was spreading around the House…

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Oh, screw it. I put my name down.

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But all I know how to do is draw comics. I’m not some sort of art virtuoso. Um… what could I do?

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Luckily for me…

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This resident, a visual arts student, was not only interested in comics, but is also a very, very talented artist!

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So we plotted.

And plotted.

And wondered… what could we draw live that people would enjoy? 

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A few days before the iNight, I put this poster on the front board.

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This box accompanied it.

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And we promised that, on iNight, we would pick people’s suggestions from the box, and draw them in under one minute.

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Well, it looked like we were going to have to. Because, before we knew it, we found ourselves backstage.

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The rules were like this: Our host would pull a random suggestion from our suggestion box. We would have one minute to draw it. There were cameras mounted above both of our tables, so that the audience could watch us draw live.

Me on stage!

Me on stage!

Drawing in progress!

Drawing in progress!

And here’s a sampling of the things we came up with!

PROMPT: “Bryony riding a Gengar”

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My drawing is on the right, and Bryony’s is on the left.

PROMPT: “Darth Vader wearing a tutu farting rainbows”

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My drawing is on the right, and Bryony’s is on the left.

PROMPT: “Draw a dick.” (Yeah… it was bound to happen.)

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For those unaware of Australian politics– the dude on the left is Tony Abbott, Australia’s current prime minister.

PROMPT: “An evil hamster fighting a man-eating burger with a piranha gun.”

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PROMPT: “Snorlax pole dancing.”

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It was a blur of markers and paper. I didn’t bother gauging the audience’s reaction– I was focusing too much on drawing. After 10 minutes of furious sketching, I stumbled off stage to regroup with my drawing buddy.

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Obviously, I was a little overwhelmed. A little nervous. A little oh-my-dude-why-did-I-agree-to-this-again? 

But, you know what? 

It was really fun!

Despite being on stage, in front of a huge audience, with a high-pressure time limit, I had a lot of fun doing the act. I mean, I hadn’t even planned on doing an act. I didn’t think it was possible for me to do an act. I didn’t have the confidence to pull off a successful performance. Yet, somehow, we had made it happen. Not only did we make it happen, but people actually enjoyed it!

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As a result, that night, I felt a wee bit better about myself. I’ve never been encouraged to learn how to draw; quite the contrary, really. So it was nice to see that my amateur skills were enough to entertain, amaze, and amuse. I’ll be forever known as that-one-girl-who-can-draw-weird-blobby-cartoony-things! 

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Finally, I could sit back and enjoy the rest of iNight.

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Somehow, I had not only been roped into organizing the fashion show segment of the night, but also modeling the Egyptian national costume. I’m not Egyptian. Long story.

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Nope, definitely still Asian.

And that’s how I ended up strutting my stuff twice in the same night.

“I’m keen on it, mate!” – My personal encounters with Aussie slang

As an Asian-American, my origins are ambiguous to those who don’t know me. More than once, I’ve been asked by my Aussie classmates:

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It’s odd to think of myself as the one with the accent, because to me, everyone else has an accent! With the colorful Aussie slang to match.

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Sydney probably isn’t the best place to go if you want to hear that classic Crocodile Hunter accent. Sorry to disappoint: nobody says “crikey” around here. In fact…

Though the accent is understandable, I have encountered some Australian words that I’ve never heard before. For instance, Australians really like to shorten everything.

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Or, the same words will have different meanings here…

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…and different pronunciations.

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When an Australian is interested in doing something, they’ll often say…

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When someone does something good, they’ll get a flurry of:

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If I put on a sweater, I’ll be told:

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Australians aren’t tired, they’re

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And of course, there’s the occasional word that I’ve never heard before in my life.

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The list goes on and on. The Australians really do have their own brand of English! Even if they don’t use all the slang I expected them to:

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Still, it always brightens my day when I hear someone say:

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I think I’m even picking up on some of the terminology!

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I’m going to return to Boston with an impeccable Australian accent, I swear!

To bee or not to bee

Wow, have I been busy! Classes are in full swing around here. In fact, I’ve already reached the midpoint of the semester. Every day has been nonstop!

Even my weekends are packed. Though, this usually is my fault. I want to enjoy Australia while I can, you know? So I’ve been trying to visit wherever I can: Canberra, the Blue Mountains, Bondi Beach…

Last weekend, however, was taken by something entirely out of my control: a mandatory, overnight excursion for one of my classes.

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I’ve never heard of a field trip being mandatory before, especially for a university-level biology course.

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My professor for this particular course is a bit of an unusual one. For one, he’s traveled all over the world for his research. Secondly, he is one of those rare professors who can actually give interesting lectures. Thirdly, he actually cares for his students. And finally, he is deeply, passionately in love with bees.

Yes.

Bees.

On this trip, we would be going two hours out of Sydney to a little university-owned research station. The area is quite mountainous, with lots of hiking trails and forests. And we’d be going there– of course– to catch bees. Wild bees and domesticated bees, to be exact– after the trip, we’re supposed to analyze the DNA of the bees and compare the two populations.

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We were also scheduled to give presentations on controversial biology topics that weekend. The presentations that would be worth 10% of our grade.

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So I hopped on the train from Central out to Woy Woy, a coastal town north of Sydney. The ride took around two hours, and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides you can get from the city.

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It’s probably a good thing I took a nap, though. My class set off as soon as we arrived.

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The bee colony lived higher up on the mountain, so we had to walk for quite a while…

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…but the view made it worthwhile.

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And off we went to catch bees!

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Well, now you have to poot the bee!

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I admit, I didn’t think I would be able to catch a bee. But my lab partner and I caught three!

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Because the research station lacked a proper lab, we had to get the bees back to Sydney for analysis. Thus, we dipped them in liquid nitrogen to freeze them and preserve their DNA.

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That was all only for the wild bees, of course. The lab station had its own colonies of domestic bees. My professor took care of the bee collection from those– the chances of getting stung from them was very high.

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Except my prof is so used to bee stings that he can’t be bothered with protective gear! Like a badass.

He brought over some of the honeycombs for us to observe.

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Though the risk is worth it for the honey alone.

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And we returned to the house for dinner, where we were stalked by hungry Australian magpies and brush turkeys.

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When I held an apple in front of this turkey, it literally jumped to peck the food out of my hand. Like a dog!

It was a pretty cool day! My class enjoyed dinner, bonded with each other, and sat around the campfire that night. Our professor even broke out a few beers with some of the students, since 18 is the legal age in Australia and Aussies are chill like that. Everyone chatted and had a good time.

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Well. It was a nice trip nonetheless.

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And I didn’t even get stung.

In which the cosmos sends me into my quarter-life crisis.

I turned 20 a few weeks ago, so my friends here wanted to go out and celebrate.

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Yeah. I’m no less childish at 20 than I was at 19. Listen, I just really like DDR!

Still, I know that 20 is supposed to be a monumental age. I’ve beaten teenage pregnancy. I’ve survived for two decades. By this time, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft.  Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. Charles Lindbergh learned to fly.

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To worsen my existential crisis, I went stargazing with my residential college, the International House. IH has their own log cabin in Belanglo State Forest, about 2 hours out of Sydney.

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When not in use by residents, the log cabin can be rented out by other groups. For example, the MacArthur Astronomical Society regularly stays in the cabin. In fact, they were there when our 40+ people bus pulled into the woods.

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They had their own telescopes and everything! These guys aren’t joking around– each scope is worth thousands of dollars.

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We arrived at the cabin a bit early, so we had some time to kill before nightfall. The International House organized a scavenger hunt to keep us occupied.

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And, in the style of the Aussies, we had a barbecue dinner.

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The sun began to set. Thankfully, we had a completely clear, cloudless night. The outside of the cabin is only lit with red lights, since they interfere less with your night vision. So the stars slowly came into view…

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…and we were even able to see planets.

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It was incredible! I’ve never seen that many stars in my life. I wished I could bring the sky home with me.

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I thought the photos came out rather well.

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It was a breathtaking sight. Especially since I’ve lived all my life in either the suburban sprawl or the city. There’s way too much light pollution there to see much of anything. There’s a Calvin and Hobbes strip on the awe of stargazing, actually:

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So. Since I was stargazing, I was obligated to contemplate the difficult questions.

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One year older, zero years wiser.