In which I get hit by a car

When people found out that I was going to Ireland, they would always ask one thing:

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The answer was always,

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And our town was, indeed, a bit remote. For two months, my fellow students and I stayed in a little town called Ballyvaughan. And when I say little, I mean tiny. I’ve stayed in countryside villages before. Back when I lived in Germany, my little town of Monzelfeld had about 1,000 people. Heck, 1,000 was the size of my high school graduating class. To me, Monzelfeld seemed small.

Ballyvaughan boasts a population of almost 300 people.

So we got to experience, truly, the small-town country life. One of the first things we noticed? The roads.

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Out in the Burren, the roads are long, narrow, and curvy. Unfortunately, the only way to get from Ballyvaughan to the college we were studying at was via one of these roads.

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A van would drive us to and from the school at 9AM and 5PM every day. If we wanted to get to and from the school on our own time, though, we had to walk.

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The speed limit around the area was 100 km/hr, about 60 miles per hour or so. Cars drive fast. To keep themselves safe and visible to drivers, people wear these when they walk anywhere:

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Photo courtesy of one of our lovely member’s selfie stick!

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Walking to school made me pretty nervous at first. It would be better if we could walk along, say, the side of the road on the grass or something. But no, both sides of the road to school were lined with stone walls, nettles, and thorn bushes.

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After a while, I got used to it. Irish drivers– swift as they are– know what they’re doing. They’ll drive around pedestrians. If a car’s coming from the opposite direction, they’ll stop and make room. Some kids didn’t even bother wearing their vests in the daytime. Not me, though– I’m a bit too paranoid for that.

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In fact, by by the 6th or 7th week, I wasn’t nervous at all. I wore my vest, but walked along with confidence.

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And of course it’s when you let your guard down, that it happens.

post 201 image 13My friend and I decided to walk to the local aviary for a bird show. We were told that, when walking along the road, you should always walk against traffic. When going around a bend in the road, however, you should always be on the outside. Otherwise, cars won’t be able to see you.

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So, at a bend, I crossed the road to be visible. I made it safely to the other side. My friend was about to follow suit when it happened.

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It came from behind me, so I didn’t see it coming: something hitting me, at great speed, knocking me clean to the ground.

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It seemed like an instant, and yet, a long time. One moment I was happily walking, the next moment I was on the ground.

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The impact swept me into the air and sent me rolling on the road for a couple feet.

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And my shocked brain could only muster one reaction.

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My friend ran over to me, shocked. A passing car stopped, the driver sprinting out to make sure I wasn’t dead. I didn’t see the car that hit me.

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Whoa, give me a second, lady. I need to think about this.

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It seemed that, in the split-second of collision, my brain had the good sense to scream:

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I insinctively reached for something– anything– to prevent me from cracking my head on the pavement. The only thing within reach? Those goddamn thorn bushes along the side of the road, of course.

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A cycling group passing by noticed me on the ground. They stopped, too, to make sure that the little Asian girl bleeding on the street was okay.

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My biology-trained brain flashed back to middle school science class.

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After a minute or so, the cyclists helped me to my feet and walked me to the kind passerby’s car. She started to clean up my cuts when I see a man sheepishly walk up. Turns out that he was the guy who hit me– and the first thing out of his mouth was an excuse:

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The cyclists were on him in an instant.

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The man just kept repeating himself. I don’t usually drive here! I’m in a rental car! I just moved to Ireland, I’m actually from Italy! It was between hitting the girl, and hitting the other car…and I was driving a rental car… so it would have been more expensive to hit the car…

It wasn’t until I spoke up that he finally agreed to give out his information.

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One of the Irish cyclists came over to me.

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Oh, man. I wasn’t exactly anticipating this. I rooted through my backpack with my non-bleeding hand.

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So, I got the man’s name, address, number, and license plate. As soon as I did, he rushed to his car and drove away. One of the cyclists turned to me.

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I replied,

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My friend called our professor– but, of course, our fine professor gave her cell phone to her au pair instead of carrying it with her. We had to contact our art college instead. Luckily, one of the program coordinators there volunteered to drive me over an hour away to the nearest hospital. Irish locals are kind like that– seriously, I’ve never met such a generous community in my life.

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By the time we finally got to the hospital, the shock had worn off and I was feeling better. Still, I entered the ER. At the time of the accident, my right elbow was really sore and inflamed. The swelling had gone down since, but still. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. Especially after getting hit by a car.

A nurse disinfected my cuts and brought me to the doctor. The doctor proceeded to do a physical check-up.

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By some miracle, I was actually alright. I was sore, bruised and a bit cut up– but all my bones were intact. Nothing was broken. All’s well that ends well, right?

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Requiescat in pace, my dear friend.

So, a few hours after the accident, my sister received this phone call.

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Alright, alright. As torn up as I am about my now-deceased camera, I have to say: I am, indeed, one lucky bastard.

In which I learn why Ireland is so green

When you Google Image “Ireland,” this is the kind of thing you get:


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There are two things in common with these three photos:

  1. The scenery is very green, as Ireland is famous for.
  2. The weather is beautiful and sunny.

So I always imagined Ireland as a beautifully warm and sunny country with bright rolling hills and lush grass. I wasn’t totally off: it’s got those rolling hills, that lush grass. As for the warm and sunny part…

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…I was dead wrong.

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Honestly, I should have known.

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And my group was living in a particularly harsh part of Ireland. We were right on the west coast, in a place known as the Burren.

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The Burren, as you can see, has a very distinctive landscape. It’s composed of crumbling limestone, the remains of an ancient seabed. The rocky hills can get quite tall, with many of them reaching over 200 meters high. And since the Burren is by the west coast– where those Atlantic sea winds come blowing in– the weather can be… unpredictable. 

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Let me give you an example.

During our first week in Ireland, my group was scheduled to go on a hike on Blackhead Mountain. Blackhead Mountain is located right along the coast and promised impressive views of both the sea and the land. What’s more, we had a local Irish farmer to guide us on the hike. I was excited.

post 199 image 14We took a bus to the starting point. The weather looked warm and sunny when we were indoors, but as soon as we stepped out of the van…

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Windy as hell. You could open an umbrella and fly away, Mary Poppins style.

But it wasn’t raining, so we went on our way. Despite the wind, I was really enjoying the walk. The Burren has a beautiful and unique landscape. For instance, the rocks are full of huge gaps called “grikes.” If you’re not careful, you could step in a grike– and considering that these gaps can be as deep as your waist, that would not be good.

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The Burren is also home to a distinct mix of flora. Back in the Ice Age, an iceberg dumped a mix of Arctic and Mediterranean seeds in the area. Today, they still flourish due to the Burren’s year-round temperate climate. I never expected to see orchids outside of a rainforest!

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So, in spite of the chilly wind, I was enjoying the hike. Our hiking guide was incredibly informative and walked at a nice pace, stopping frequently to explain this rose bush or that ancient fossil. About 30 minutes in, we paused so he could even give us a bit of Irish history.

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He paused.

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Of course, I looked behind me.

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There was a HUGE rainstorm blowing right at us.

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It didn’t.

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The storm arrived within a matter of minutes. It came out of nowhere! And it wasn’t just rain. IT WAS HAIL.

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Horizontal hail, due to the wind.

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There was nothing we could do but continue our hike. Our guide kept going with the tour as usual. But the wind and hail were so fierce that, even when he shouted, we could barely hear what he said.

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Oh, the joy.

We continued up the mountain, battling winds that threatened to knock us over. Our guide led us to a structure known as the Caherdooneerish Fort. Here, we huddled against one of the ancient stone walls and waited out the storm.

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We love hiking

We love hiking

After about 20 minutes of soaking misery, the clouds finally cleared.

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We continued our hike in the beautiful, beautiful sunlight.

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Mind you, it was still windy as all get-out. The wind was so strong that it almost tipped me over with every step. And you don’t want to misstep in the Burren: remember, those grikes can swallow your leg whole. Alternatively, you could slip and knock your head on some lovely limestone.

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Seriously, I thought I was going to die with each step I took.

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It was insane. Incredible landscapes. Outrageous weather. Kids stumbling down the mountain, defying death with every step.

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It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on.

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Because nothing gets your adrenaline pumping better than thinking you’re going to fall off a mountain…for an hour straight.

In fact, I wasn’t even mad when another rain cloud rolled in.

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And when it started hailing on us.

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Luckily, our guide was prepared this time.

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Apparently, 13 people could fit under this guy’s tarp. Barely.

Three hours later, our bus picked 13 wet, freezing kids off the side of the road. I had worn two pairs of pants. Both got completely soaked.

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As you can imagine, we were all glad to get back home. We could take warm showers. Heat up some soup. Huddle under dry sheets and thick blankets, thinking about the windiest three hours of our lives.

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Maybe I am. But hey, nothing wrong with a little crazy, am I right?

Setting sail, coming home

Coming home was weird.

I’ve been on long flights before. Back and forth from Japan. To Vietnam. To Australia. This flight was as long as any flight I’ve taken. But it was different, somehow.

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Maybe it’s because, after being gone for half a year, I was finally coming home.

And coming home meant that the dream was over. I had dived at the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the temples of Vietnam, and jumped off a cliff in New Zealand. Heck, ever since November, I had been on the road, living out of a suitcase, not knowing where I’d be the next day. But the start of the new year brought the end of my journey.

So I was a little vulnerable on my flight back to Boston.

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I decided to distract myself with a movie. Unfortunately, I had turned on the most melodramatic, depressing drama film ever. In my sleep-deprived, emotionally sensitive state, it was a bad decision.

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So I looked pretty awful when I arrived in Boston.

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The weirdness continued when I disembarked the plane.  Suddenly, I couldn’t help but be struck by the things I’ve experienced for years.

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Then again, at that point, I was pretty delusional. I wasn’t able to sleep much on my flight home. My neurosis became clear after I boarded the subway to head to Northeastern.

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An hour later, I finally made it to campus. I arranged housing pretty late this semester, so I was living in a dorm with roommates I had never met before. They had no idea who I was or when I was coming.

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I had flown straight from Vietnam to Boston, so all I had was my suitcase. No towel, no bedsheets, no winter coat to protect me from the below-freezing temperatures outside. I dumped my hoodies onto my bare mattress, flopped down, and finally relaxed. 

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For a little bit.

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Sort of.

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I’ve been home for about a week, and everything’s begun to fall back into the routine. I’m just about over jet lag. My body has finally adjusted to the ridiculously cold Boston weather. I’ve started my co-op, my dad drove up and moved in the rest of my stuff, and I’ve even started cooking again. Everything is back to…

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Yes, the adventure is over. All I’m left with are the memories.

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And trust me, after these last two months, I’ve got a lot of them.

(Most of which consist of me jumping around.)

Coming soon…

“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!

University of Sydney is kicking my booty.

I’m a study abroad student. I’m only going to be in Australia for one semester. And for most one-semester students, there’s a common theme:

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However, Northeastern does not allow me to take all my classes pass/fail. No, every single class I take here will count towards my GPA– and this is a worrying thought.

You see, when you’re not some study abroad student paying out the wazoo to go to school in Australia, the University of Sydney is actually very competitive. USyd falls within the top 50 unis in the world (as opposed to Northeastern, which is still trying to break the top 50 in the USA) and is number 3 in Australia.

So, the school is more competitive, and the students are resultantly smart. But I’m smart too! Right?

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Australian uni culture, as far as I’ve seen, is a little different from the USA. For one, it’s much more independent. Here, kids are expected to sort of figure things out on their own. Great emphasis is placed on the final exam. Professors do not have office hours. And the load is heavier. As a biology major, I’ve found that every single class in bio has a lab, meaning that science kids usually have 4 labs in a single semester. In the States, I’ve been warned not to take more than two.

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And those labs, or as they’re sometimes called, “practicals.” I come from a school where I’m used to it being like this: 

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Here, all my labs are like this: 

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Of course, I might learn more if the university doesn’t hold my hand. On the other hand, I’m totally lost. After I did my first evolutionary genetics lab sans guidance or explanation, I got my grade back:

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And this was after I harassed the lab TA.

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Oh, no.

So far, I’ve been saved by my lab partners, who are usually Australians who actually know what’s happening. Actually, it’s really shocked me at how much they know. You see, I’m used to this: 

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All the students I’ve met here, on the other hand, have been like this: 

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Perhaps I’ve been encountering an odd breed of students, but all the kids I’ve met really love their respective subjects. They often mention truly wanting to learn, and how they aim for the knowledge rather than the grade. As someone who’s hated every course I’ve taken, this concept is foreign to me. I’m impressed, to be honest.

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And I’m also dead. The grading system at the University of Sydney is a little different from the USA. While US unis will often hand out A’s, the University of Sydney grades everything on a bell curve.

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Since I’m surrounded by this incredible population of passionate students, there’s no way I’m reaching that top 3 percent of kids. I’ll be surprised if I get “credit.” Shoot. How am I supposed to keep the minimum 3.5 GPA I need to retain my scholarship?

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So maybe I’m not so screwed after all?

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Ok, ok, I kid. I’m still super-worried about my classes. But, instead of this: 

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I’ve downgraded to this: 

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It’s an improvement.

Contrary to popular belief, Australia is not full of surfer bronze gods.

Whenever I told my fellow Americans that I was going to Australia, they always reacted in two ways. The first reaction was about the guys:

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The other was about Australia’s fine fauna:

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You know your friends are good ones when they post this shizzle on your Facebook.

You know your friends are good friends when they post this shizzle on your Facebook.

Now that I’m in Australia, I can see these stereotypes for myself. Or not. Because honestly…

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And what of the poisonous animals? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in the city, but I haven’t seen anything scary so far. Though I have taken a shine to all the unusual birds around Sydney.

The Australian White Ibis, or as I like to call it, the Garbage Bird. As exotic as they look, they're actually a pest.

The Australian White Ibis, or as I like to call it, the Garbage Bird. As exotic as they look, they’re actually a pest.

I'm tempted to make a Finding Nemo reference.

I’m tempted to make a Finding Nemo reference.

An Australian Magpie!

An Australian Magpie!

Though as I pass judgement on Australia, people have passed judgement on me. I’m an American, you see, and I’m living in a residential college for international students. I find it highly entertaining to hear other countries’ stereotypes about the USA.

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Granted, it’s partly our fault that we have such a great rep.

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As I’ve tried to explain my country, I’ve run into some roadblocks. America is a big place. My understanding of the US is probably totally different from someone who lives, in, say, Texas, or California, or Kansas. I can only give biased opinions.

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Well, I do my best.

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I’m a born ambassador, that’s for sure.

I feel like a freshman again.

I successfully survived the first week of schooling here at the University of Sydney. Survive does not equal aced, though.

You see, the University of Sydney is a big place. The main campus is spread across two suburbs , Camperdown and Darlington. This is because the school caters to about 50,000 students, quite a bit more than Northeastern’s humble 13,000.

In fact, the typical Australian university (or, “uni,” as they like to abbreviate it here) is a bit different from American unis. We can observe one such difference from a sampling of my conversations with USyd students:

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In the US, college is almost equated to independence. Kids graduate high school and move out, often to schools hours away. In Australia, it’s much more typical for kids to live at home and commute to their local university. A daily commute of an hour or more is normal.

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But I digress. The University of Sydney is huge, and its campus is suitably large as well. And since I have a terrible sense of direction, this did not bode well for my first day of classes.

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The campus is so big that asking for directions from students might not result in success.

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Or faculty members, for that matter.

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Luckily for me, Australians are laid-back. They’re rather famous for it. So my professor didn’t care when I burst into his class…

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…20 minutes after it started.

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And that’s how I showed up to my first class 40 minutes late.

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Dayum, USyd. You big! 

Perhaps USyd’s large size also has to do with its age. The University of Sydney is the oldest uni in Australia and is resultantly home to the oldest buildings in Australia, which Asian tourists love to come and photograph. Like me.

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So, when was this grand university established?

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As fond as I am of Northeastern’s campus, it’s pretty neat to go to a school that looks like the set of Harry Potter. There’s even a Quidditch team!

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This will be an interesting semester.

Looks like it’s time to visit the homeland.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to Vietnam! For the first time!

That’s right. I’m Vietnamese but I’ve never actually been to Vietnam before.

That’s about to change, though.

You know how I’m going to Sydney next semester? Well, my parents decided that if I went to Australia, we would all visit Vietnam once my semester was over. I mean, if one kid’s already at that side of the world, they might as well follow suit, yeah?

So we decided it would be cheapest if I got round-trip tickets in and out of Saigon, and another set of tickets from Saigon to Sydney. Therefore, I’ll be visiting Vietnam both before and after my study abroad!

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Ok, so “scared” is a little dramatic.

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And not without cause. There are exactly four things that are making me fret:

1. My grandmother.

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When your mom wants to buy you diarrhea relief medicine, it’s probably not a good sign. Speaking of my mom…

2. My mom.

My mom and dad had very different reactions to me traveling to Vietnam.

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My mom, the ever-protective mother bear, has given me wonderful tips about traveling in Vietnam.

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3. The U.S. Government travel website.

I read through the US travel advisory for Vietnam, where I found lovely quotes like these:

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Well, at least the advisory wasn’t as bad as the travel notice for Nigeria.

4. I’m Vietnamese and my Vietnamese sucks.

My Vietnamese is rudimentary at best and heavily accented. I can understand Vietnamese better than I can speak it, a fact that some of my more-distant relatives didn’t realize when I was a kid.

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If I was of Caucasian heritage, being able to speak any Vietnamese would be impressive. However, since I’m Vietnamese, my lack of skill opens me up to criticism and judgement. Better yet, I’m staying with family. Family that I’ve never met before and who speak a different dialect of Vietnamese. Whelp. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

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Well, I’m sure we’ll communicate somehow.

And nervous or not, my tickets are booked. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to Vietnam!

By the way: Rumor has it that WordPress is blocked in Vietnam. If that’s the case, I might not be able to post anything until I arrive in Sydney, which will be on July 20th. So an extended absence from my blog either means I can’t get onto WordPress, or I’ve been kidnapped by some Vietnamese ruffians. Cheers! 

I know it’s the fifth time we’ve said goodbye, but I swear this is the final one.

There’s only so many goodbyes a person can take. Though as it turns out, I can take a lot.

It started when the semester ended. A bunch of my college friends went back to their hometowns, meaning it would be a while until I saw them again.

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It was sad, but at least I wasn’t left totally alone. Some of my friends, like myself, stayed in Boston for the first half of the summer.

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In fact, there were enough of us left in Boston that the friends who had initially returned home came back to visit.

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Though, of course, I had to say bye to them again.

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The summer winded on, and it got closer and closer to the day I would leave Massachusetts. With every visit, and every goodbye, our farewells got more and more urgent.

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Especially since we all have such disparate schedules. My friends were scattered around the Greater Boston area, so we never knew if this was the last time we’d be seeing each other.

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Finally, the final weekend of my co-op rolled around. It would be my last full weekend in Boston. My high school friends, realizing that my departure was soon, came up to visit me.

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I also had to say goodbye to my college friends for the last time.

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It was a melancholy moment. I’ve grown attached to the beautiful and friendly Boston over the last two years. And I love my friends, so I was certainly sad to leave.

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Sorry guys.

But now I really am out of Boston, and back in the Philly suburbs! I’ve been busy with moving out/moving in/unpacking/packing. After all, I depart for Vietnam in a week!

Which reminds me.

By the way, I’m going to Vietnam as well.

Freezing water and no bathing suits? Ahh, let’s jump in anyway.

Thinking back on my trip to Japan makes me pretty 懐かしい– nostalgic. I mean, we saw some amazing stuff. Mt. Fuji. Massive temples. Clothes-eating deer. The awesome giant Gundam statue in Odaiba, Tokyo.

One of my favorite days from that trip, however, was at a place I had never heard of. None of us knew this place before our trip. It was a little town in Hokkaido known as 小樽市 (Otaru-shi, or Otaru City) located by the sea. The city has been declining in population for several years, but is still popular as a tourist destination.

Nobody really knew what all this meant, but at this point in our trip, we had learned to just roll with it. People rarely knew what we were doing on our trip until the day before– our sensei, determined to take us as many places as possible, was constantly shifting and editing our itinerary.

In fact, I didn’t know we were going to Otaru until one day in Japanese class. The Japanese student I was practicing with told me,

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It’s the sad truth. Knowingly or not, our group was going, and we hopped the train to Otaru. I spent the hour-long ride enjoying the train signs.

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So, what is Otaru famous for? Well, it has a long history as a center of trade in Northern Japan. It was the site of Hokkaido’s first railroad line, even. You can still walk along the tracks today.

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Otaru was a center for maritime trade as well. The city has preserved the canals that ships used to carry goods back and forth from the warehouses. Today, it makes for a nice stroll.

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Otaru used to house a big bit of the Bank of Japan, but the building has since been converted to a museum detailing Japan’s financial history. Here, we got to see curiosities like old 1-yen bills.

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As a port city, Otaru is also famous for its seafood! We went to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, as I’ve posted about beforeMy friend also nabbed some huge grilled prawns from a street vendor.

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As a tourist town, Otaru has plenty of souvenir shops as well. We encountered glass shops…

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…more glass shops…

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…and even more glass shops.

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Well, Otaru isn’t exactly like Cape Cod. I don’t think the Cape is famous for selling… music boxes?

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After looking around the shops for a while, we took a ferry out to see the 鰊御殿 (Nishen Goten, aka the Herring Mansion.) For some reason, our sensei encouraged us to feed the seagulls on the boat ride there.

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We discovered that admission to the Herring Mansion wasn’t free. So, we wandered along the shore for a while…

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When someone suddenly decided:

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None of us had bathing suits, of course. Also, Otaru is in Hokkaido. Aka Northern Japan. In other words: the ocean’s not going to be warm.

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It would be more accurate to say that the ocean was freezing. Did I jump in? You bet I did. I almost chickened out, I admit.
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Our sensei thought we were nuts.

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The other Japanese people in the area also thought we were nuts.

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Afterwards, we dried off, boarded the bus, and went home.

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The day we spent in Otaru is one of my fondest memories from Japan. Sure, maybe it wasn’t the flashiest city with the most impressive sights. But it was a day spent with friends, food, and our sensei yelling at the peeping Japanese boys. What more do you need?