Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bloody Queensland, Mate!

By Elijah Probst

One of the first things I noticed aside from the humidity when I stepped off the plane here in Brisbane was how much more relaxed I felt almost instantaneously.  It almost felt like there was a chemical in the air that relieved all the mental and physical tension present in my body.  Whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, but I’ve come to realize that there is a distinct lifestyle present here in Queensland.

So far my observations on this city have been scattered, but I’ll try to narrow them down into some coherent thoughts.
Me writing blog post
Photo courtesy of Marc Steiner
Some of you reading this may know that my academic interests lie in the realm of urban planning and alternative transportation, so I’ll start with my thoughts on getting around Brisbane.  The neighborhood that I’m staying in, Morningside, has a distinctly suburban feel.  The houses are all huge and sprawling, there’s trees and lawns everywhere and it takes forever to walk to places I need to get to.  In other words, car culture seems to be king here.  A couple eager motorists here have nearly hit me because I’ve made the assumption that pedestrians generally have right of way in a crosswalk!

Still, since we as students don’t have access to cars, I’ve been able to explore Brisbane’s multi-faceted mass transit system and it certainly isn’t something to be dismissed.  As Brisbane is a large city surrounding a river, there is a well-operated ferry service that takes passengers to different locations along the river.  It doesn’t seem likely that this is a practical commuting option for everyone, but it’s a nice service nonetheless.  Probably the more widely used options are the buses and trains.  I’ve had most experience on the buses here and they are very well maintained, but out here in the more residential areas the service isn’t very frequent.  I’d say the biggest problem, however, was what a couple of members of our group experienced last weekend—the buses don’t run late on Saturday nights!

Needless to say, all of us have been working very hard on the academic portion of this program.  Still, part of experiencing a country is engaging with its nightlife scene and so a few of us wanted to go out.  We were getting really excited about going to the Fortitude Valley neighborhood because we’d heard it was the classic nightclub neighborhood and a good time.  The only problem was getting there.  Not only was it across the river, but it was simply not within practical walking distance.  Public transport wasn’t an option because it didn’t run late enough.  Cabs weren’t an option either because, combined with inflated drink prices, our trip would be economically unfeasible.

As frustrated as I was as a public transport enthusiast, we decided to check out the local scene on Oxford St.  After a 30-45 minute walk rallying the troops at various points along the way (again frustrating the urban planner within me), we arrived.  To add insult to injury, the only nightlife spot on the entire block didn’t allow us to enter because they wouldn’t accept our state-licensed IDs.  While it seemed like the night was going to end in a less-than-satisfactory manner, we ended up stumbling in a smaller restaurant/bar that was much emptier, but had much more welcoming staff.  We ended up having a great night talking to the bartenders and wait-staff there, and I was happy that our group had the capacity to turn the less-than-ideal situation into a night that I wouldn’t have any other way.
The night after

On the long but cheerful walk home, I wound up talking to Marc, my home-stay partner about all the quirks and tendencies of our host family.

Our hosts are a wonderful family and we’ve really enjoyed our stay with them so far.  Saturday morning, our host dad took us and his son to the farmers market out in West End.  As with most of our conversations with our host dad, we ended up learning a lot and the drive was peppered with little tidbits here and there about current events in Queensland and facts about Brisbane neighborhoods.  During these past few days Marc and I couldn’t help noticing his propensity to intersperse sentences with the words “bloody” and “mate.”  While one might think that there wouldn’t be a language barrier between Americans and Australians because we both speak English, in my time here I’ve found that it takes a lot of careful listening if you want to understand what people here are saying.  Still, it’s been one of the best parts of the trip identifying the cultural intricacies that make us different.

The market was a really vibrant scene of all kinds of merchants peddling their products and it was a great place for people watching.  I’ve also noticed how often Queenslanders run into folks they know.  Our host family seem to know just about everyone in Brisbane, and when we were talking to a younger couple that recognized our host dad, we realized that we could sit there all day and just have conversations with people they knew.  One of our host’s adult sons is staying at the house now as well and whenever we watch TV is always commenting on the fact that he knows this and that rugby player.  Our host brother himself is a huge cricket fan, and there are countless pictures in his room of famous cricketers that he’s met along with autographs and paraphernalia.

Our host mother and her daughter have been gone these past couple of days because the daughter is moving into Uni (what the Aussies call University) up in Cairns.  Before she left however, we were going on a walk and ran into the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  The daughter didn’t want to bother him but mentioned how she had “awkwardly” beat his son in a game of tennis a while back!

The cultural exchange with the family has been really interesting as well.  It seems like the number one thing that Australians ask us Americans about is gun culture.  Australia has much stricter gun control measures than we do, and it seems they get a lot of exposure to news stories about gun violence in America.  Overall I think they may get a slightly warped view of America, but that’s just my opinion.  Our host brother was showing us some of his DVDs and the two movies of his that we’ve watched so far have been have been about gun violence and ridiculous partying in America.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide how accurately that depicts the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sports too have been interesting.  The two most commonly viewed in our household are cricket and rugby, which I think of as Australian versions of baseball and football.  The whole family has been great about introducing us to the games and I have a much better understanding of both now.  Sport is a big part of Aussie culture and it’s been interesting to observe certain states here are defined by their sport preferences.  For example, Queensland is big on rugby whereas Victoria is much more keen on Aussie Rules Football.
Photo courtesy of Jason O'Brien
It’s been such a wonderful stay so far with our host family.  This post really only touches a bit on all the experiences we’ve had but it’s been a truly immersive week and a half in Aussie culture.

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