Huang Dong Ping

25 March 2013

Sally Garden ShowRai and I have always wanted our own garden with a vegetable patch, fruit trees and flowers. Now it’s the perfect time to plan because we just got our house and will move in soon! So we joined thousands of Melbournians attending the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show last Sunday to enjoy the beautiful weather, plants, food, music and great entertainment at the Royal Exhibition Building and surrounding Carlton Gardens.

The show is celebrating its 18th birthday and is regarded as the largest and most successful horticultural event in the Southern Hemisphere. The long queue at the front gate before the opening hour (9am) demonstrated the popularity of this event. Passing by the garden sculpture area, we went straight to The Great Hall of Flowers. The combination of colours, designs, mini gardens and plant displays really blew our minds away. Many organisations and institutions showcased their designs, ideas and talents. It was not easy for us to choose the best because each individual presentation was unique and glorious.

Wandering around the Carlton Gardens, we explored hundreds of stalls selling a variety of goods, such as green houses, water features, garden tools, seeds, garden sculptures and fresh plants. A show bag with more than ten types of vegetable seeds, a big container of plant food and some handy mini tools were hot bargains, and of course, we did not miss them.

Sally_Garden showThe Scottish Giant and his ‘beer hound’ (deer hound) were extremely entertaining. The dog (a man in a dog costume) kept chasing people and consistently seeking companionship, such as patting, kissing and hugging, from the crowd. If he did not get any attention, things turned nasty – he put up one back leg and started ‘peeing’ (water from hidden pump) towards you. Two ‘seagulls’ (men in costumes) also drew attention from the diners at the outdoor food court. Everywhere they went, a piece of food was essential to keep their sharp beaks away from you. Several live bands performed in different locations and created a relaxed and pleasant environment for visitors.

There was also something new for me at this show. The first one was fruit salad trees. With multi-grafted branches, they are very unique and practical, and produce a variety of fruits (up to six different fruits) on one tree. Our favourite was ‘citrus fruits’ – oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, tangelos, grapefruits and lemonades. The second was Crystal pearls with different colours. When put in water, they absorb the moisture and expand, forming a rainbow in the glass container. Good decoration for the house!

Through today’s experience, Rai and I witnessed the best landscape and floral talent that Australia has to offer alongside an extensive array of garden retail products. It’s certainly a great way to celebrate Australian lifestyle and the great outdoors. Hopefully, we will be transformed from ‘green hand’ to ‘green thumb’ soon!

13 March 2013

Home Sweet HomeA famous Chinese saying ‘An ju le ye’ (live and work in peace and contentment) proves how important a home is to people. Now Rai and I have got our own dream home! The house hunting journey took a long time, but it was totally worth it.

We started looking last August. The first step was online research of house profiles, pre-screening these profiles and selecting the ones we felt we would like to have a look at. Then we contacted the agent by phone and tried to get more information about the properties that we were interested. I felt that talking to the agent before going to see the house actually helped me to know the agent and the house better. Now came the driving around to do house inspections. Rai and I prepared a house inspection check-list, which included various points, such as Aspect NSEW, roof tiles/rafters, drainage, HWS age/condition/location, heating/air-conditioning, backyard access, windows etc. At the end of each inspection, we always put down our ranking on the check-list.

After seeing around 100 properties, it is a big challenge to remember which was which, so these check lists came in very handy because we could go back to the details that we had written down.

Rai and I also went to the Melbourne Home Buyer & Property Investor Show held at Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. Some of the seminars were quite informative and provided lots of useful information for first-home buyers like us. After a whole day of intensive training plus loads of handouts, Rai and I certainly felt much more confident in the property market!

I still remember very vividly our first time making an offer on a house, it was through email, but still I felt very nervous. I had never done this before, so it was my favourite – a first time again. Two days later, the agent informed us that we were outbid by others. There was a very complicated feeling in my mind when I got the news – a bit disappointed because I missed the bid, a bit relieved because I was worried that we were not ready for the huge responsibility of the house, a bit optimistic because we might get a cheaper and better one in the future.

Lunch breaks at work for me were a perfect time to gather information for house hunting – how to choose house insurance, how to avoid paying mortgage insurance, how and where to check the property, which suburb has a better potential in the long run, how to book building and pest inspections etc. Like the saying goes ‘two heads are better than one’, my colleagues’ suggestions were extremely useful for my reference.

After more than ten failed bids, we finally got a phone call from the agent informing us that the vendor accepted our offer. Goody, this is the sweet beginning of the finale. Negotiations with the agent on special conditions were extremely hard, and at a certain point, we nearly walked off the contract. However, after a reasonable compromise of both parties, the contract agreement was finally reached. The next thing was to sort out the home loan, book a house and pest inspection, passing document to our solicitor…everything went super smoothly, and now we own our own house!

We are planning the do-up agenda after the settlement – re-painting, renovating the bathroom, extend the garage, a higher front fence, polish the wooden floors, trim trees, add a vegetable garden, get a puppy dog and build a puppy dog house (Rai is going to do it), build a fence around the vegetable garden to make sure the puppy dog is not going to dig up all of the vegetables…cannot wait to move in!

28 February 2013

Chinese New YearThese past two weeks were all about Chinese New Year! Here is some information about it if you are not familiar with the concept of Spring Festival. 2013 is the year of the black Snake, it began on 10 February. This 2013 year of the Snake means steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline will be necessary for you to achieve what you set out to create. The Snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 Animal Signs. It is the enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, refined and collected of the Animals Signs. Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve. We Chinese also call the Year of Snake the Year of the ‘little dragon’.
On New Year’s Eve, we were invited to join a Chinese community dinner to celebrate this most important festival in Chinese culture. Some friends of mine have met Rai before; some haven’t, so introducing Rai to them became an interesting event. Rai usually started with a hand shake and a Chinese greeting ‘ni hao’ (hello) and ‘xin nian kuai le’ (Happy New Year), then he was greeted by lots of good wishes in Chinese, and he just smiled and told them he did not understand Chinese. Then everybody just started laughing and most of them reckon Rai’s limited Chinese was very convincing.

Chinese New YearTraditional Chinese delicacies are always essential in a Chinese New Year banquet, tonight was not an exception. Chicken feet, pig ears, offal, Chinese sausages, pork bellies, spiced beef, pork and chicken, tea eggs, steamed whole fish…you name it. Just by looking at them, my mouth immediately started to water. The taste reminded me of mum’s cooking and family members in China. Rai was very curious to find out the ingredients of this banquet and could not help hide his surprise and subsequently refused to try. No matter how many times he was offered offal and pig ears, he always declined politely without any hesitation. His facial expression was really entertaining. Since Rai was one of four Australians at this dinner party, he was not the only one to find that traditional Chinese delicacies were a bit too much. Just like the saying goes ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.

The first day of Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), we went to Ben and Lei’s place for dinner. Originally we wanted to celebrate at a Chinese restaurant because both Lei and I did not want to cook, however, by the time we tried to book, there were no tables available. This actually proved how important food is in Chinese culture, especially during traditional festivals. But don’t worry, we had plan B – ordering dishes from the local Chinese restaurant and bringing them back home. We found out this actually was even better than eating out – no crowd, no noisy chatting in the surrounding area, no smokers, no queue in front of the ladies and plenty of space to stretch our arms and legs.

Ben and Lei’s son Chris received his first ‘hong bao’ (lucky money wrapped in a red envelope) from aunty Sally and uncle Rai. He obviously liked it and put it straight into his mouth with chuckles. Lei’s mum prepared my favourite chicken feet, I love it! And we (Lei, Lei’s mum and me) became the very bravest ladies on this planet according to Rai because we had the guts to munch on something that he would never ever put into his mouth. Dumplings were very popular among ladies and gentlemen, Australians and Chinese. So in the end, there were no dumplings left from these restaurant quality dishes.

On the way home, Rai sensed that I was a bit home sick, he looked at me, rubbed my hair with his hand and said ‘hopefully next year, we can celebrate Chinese New Year with your family’. I smiled with teary eyes and kissed him, ‘yes dear, we will!’

1 February 2013

Sally and penguinsToday Rai and I joined the Penguin Passport program to meet many cute penguins at the Melbourne Aquarium. This program offers a unique insight into penguins’ lives behind doors, only two passengers at a time.
When we were waiting outside the enclosure for our trip, we noticed that most of the king penguins were gathering at the corner with very little movement. Occasionally they slightly moved and there were eggs between their feet. Surprise!  They were hatching eggs. It usually takes 56 days for king penguins to hatch their eggs; so far they were only into week two.

The penguin keeper (also our tour guide) picked us up at 2pm on the dot. She opened the door and led us to this mysterious ‘penguin kingdom’. Winter gear (warm jackets, pants and a pair of water-proof boots) were ready to wrap us up. After we got dressed, we went into the kitchen area. First and foremost – washing hands with some special liquid soap, twice! This is for protecting the precious penguins.

The keeper told us that penguins eat eight times per day and consume around a kilogram fish daily. Ninety per cent of the king penguin’s diet is lantern fish, which is not consumed by humans, and that is why king penguins survive well. Gentoo penguins take one multi-vitamin tablet and king penguins take two every day. Except a variety of fish, they also get some treats for enrichment, such as jelly or an ice block with fish or squid in it, yum yum! In order to recognise them easily, keepers use coloured coded tags around their necks and name them. Some names sound bit strange, such as ‘Egg’.

Sally and penguinsEnough briefing, now was time to be closer to these cute little birds. A thick heavy door was open in front of us and after several steps we were standing on the snow with penguins around us. First thing we noticed were the gentoo chicks in the crèche, they were separate from others, including their parents. The reason for this is to protect them from getting injured during feeding time, also to isolate them from the pool because they would get wet and freeze before they fully grow their water-proof adult coat. Penguin mums were standing very close to the crèche and made interesting sounds talking to their babies. Hearing them talking made us quite excited. In the past when we saw them behind the thick glass wall, we couldn’t hear anything, now it was quite different.

It seemed that our visit was not noticed by the penguins. They were all doing normal routine stuff. Some were chasing visitors’ hands outside the glass wall. Some were wobbling around and chatting. Some were diving into swimming pool and flying there. The king penguins stayed still to hatch their eggs. I guessed they have already got used to friendly humans and passed that ‘touching and smelling’ curiosity period.

In last four years, 15 chicks have been hatched and the last batch of chicks has been sent to Denmark to maintain genetic diversity. 

The keeper also told us lots of interesting facts:

  • These penguins wee every 17 minutes, so the water in their swimming pool goes through a filter every day, otherwise it might be too smelly for them to enjoy.
  • Lighting here is based on Antarctic time, so in winter the penguin enclosure will be dark at around 3pm.
  • Every morning keepers shovel out the dirty ice from yesterday and replace it with the fresh ice.

The tour went for 45 minutes and it flew by very quickly; it’s now time to say goodbye to them. Rai and I have never been so close (only a foot away) to any penguins before, today’s experience definitely ticks off anther ‘something new’ from our list. Goodie!

07 January 2013

CakeThe end of the year is always filled with a Christmassy atmosphere, especially this year. Rai and I decided to stay at our Melbourne home instead of travelling interstate or overseas, so technically, this was our first Christmas in Melbourne since we got married.

December 21 was our last working day of 2012; I dressed up like a Reindeer to attend our break up party at my workplace. Rai went to a restaurant with his colleagues for Christmas lunch. With a few drinks, a delicious feast, many jokes and plenty of laughs, both of us had bags of fun!

I could not believe that Chris, our friends’ baby, was one year old already! I still remember the first time I saw him in his mum’s arm; he was so tiny. Chris’s birthday BBQ party was held at a scenic park surrounded by beautiful water from a small lake. Chris, the star of the party, was a little happy vegemite. He did not cry nor scream from the beginning to the end. It seemed that he knew his first birthday meant a lot to his mum, dad and grandparents and people cared about him, so he did his best to entertain everyone.

Sally at ChristmasThe highlight of the party was cake time. When the cake was presented, everyone was in awe…I had never seen anything like this cake before. It seemed that the baker put all of Chris’ toys on top of the cake. Its sophisticated design and bright colour certainly impressed all of us, including Chris. His eyes were open wide, his mouth was mumbling some words and his arms and legs were waving towards the cake. Obviously he wanted to be the first to try the cake!

Today is Christmas, Ben and Lei’s family came over to join us for Christmas lunch. Rai’s traditional roast beef and vegetables, Lei’s freshly made strawberry-cheese cake and salad and Sally’s fruit platter were all in the menu. In the past, I have either gone to friend’s family home or dined out at a restaurant for Christmas, this was actually my first time as a host for Christmas lunch, and I loved it! The dining room was decorated with shining and colourful tinsel, everybody (including little Chris) was wearing a Santa Clause hat or reindeer hat. Christmas carols played; Bonbon’s were full of surprises; Chris was still entertaining to everyone. A toast to Christmas was made; New Year’s resolutions and future plans were spoken about. Jokes were made and happiness was on everyone’s smiling face.

Every year’s Christmas is different for each individual, people do all sorts of things to celebrate this special event, but one thing that is always the same and never changes is the gatherings of family and friends, exchange of gifts, Christmas decorations, traditional cuisines, and the most important part – care and love for each other!

12 December 2012

Sally1I am always interested in Indigenous Australian culture and want to know more about it. Today, Rai and I had a good chance to do it – we signed up with a program called the Aboriginal Heritage Walk and had an indigenous tour guide to help us understand the life of indigenous people better.

After saying ‘Womengeca’ (indigenous word, means welcome), Den, the guide wasted no time to lead us to a smoking ceremony area and welcomed us to the land. According to him, ‘smoking ceremony is an ancient custom among Indigenous Australians that involves smouldering various native plants to produce smoke, which they believe has cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits.’ He put wattle, cherry bula and gum tree leaves in a special container called ‘Coolum’. In his culture, wattle represents past and present elders, cherry bula (parasite plants that grasp other plants and gets strength from others) represents the young generation, gum tree leaves symbolise the parents’ generation. After igniting the leaves, the smoke curled slowly from the Coolum, and everyone took a turn to put a gum tree leave into the fire and got it smokier.

After the ceremony, Den guided us to walk through the Botanic garden and introduced lots of plants used by indigenous people, here are some interesting facts:

  • BongaNot tree leaves were used as weapons and women surrounded their huts with them making the huts more secure. 
  • Paper bark trees was used as hut floors and walls, food wrapping paper and quilts for new born babies. 
  • Melaleuca tree leaves were utilised for many medicinal purposes, including chewing the young leaves to alleviate headache and for other ailments – mosquitoes bites, cuts and bruises.
  • Lemon myrtle leaves were made into perfume, body lotion, drinks etc. 
  • Fern leaves were used in hangi (hangi is a traditional method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, it is still used for special occasions).

Wow, for us those trees were just green plants and a shade provider, but for Australian Aboriginals, they played an essential role in day-to-day lives.

Sally2Den also talked about some hunting tools, especially the boomerang. Everybody knew this symbolic Aboriginal tool, but what we did not know was that boomerang was not used for killing, but for scaring animals they want to hunt. For example, if they wanted to catch ducks in a pond, children would use long straws to swim under the water and hide in the weeds. Then, adults would throw the boomerang and the sound would scare the ducks. When the ducks ran away into the weeds to hide, children would catch them easily.

At the end of the two-hour walk, everybody was sitting down in a big circle and enjoyed the lemon myrtle tea offered by Den. Den told us that sitting in a circle was an Aboriginal way of gathering and it also meant that everybody was equal. He asked us to answer a question one by one, ‘what does this land mean to you?’ A variety of answers were gathered: happiness, sports, life, home and motherland… here’s Den’s answer to this question:

‘Imagine when people start cutting trees down, killing wild animals, destroying land, what do you feel? Our Aboriginal people feel like they are hurting our mother and family members…’ 

That’s so true. For Aborigines, land is everything! And for us, for non-Aborigines, we will have to learn to respect and love this red continent, instead of constantly borrowing things from her and never returning them! Den was absolutely right about this: ‘We don’t own the land, the land owns us!’

Den read to everyone an Indigenous Australia poem of reconciliation. There’s no gorgeous language in the poem, but they’re all heartfelt words. Everyone was bit emotional at the end and I bet everyone had an enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking trip.

25 November 2012

Sally and the cakeIt’s that time of the year – my birthday again! Rai and I held a small barbeque party at our local park. The weather was very cooperative – 25 degrees with a gentle breeze and beautiful sunshine. The park was packed with people, especially at the BBQ facility area. I guess everyone didn’t want to waste such a good weekend to enjoy outdoor gatherings with friends and family members. So did we!

As the hosts, of course we got to the park much earlier to get everything set up. Lucky us, we spotted the last available BBQ thirty meters away from car park. Quickly we acted – grabbed the huge esky from the car boot and dashed to the BBQ area! As an experienced BBQ chef, Rai wasted no time starting a good clean of the stove; meanwhile, I transferred the drinks, snacks, spices, sauces and cooking equipment from the car onto our party table. 

By the time Ben and Lei’s family arrived, we were ready to get the BBQ meat sizzling. Like usual, Ben and Rai were in charge of BBQing the sausages, meatballs, beef steaks and chicken. They always have a lot of car racing, house renovation, workshop insights and man’s stuff to talk about. All the ladies were sitting down on a big blanket and gossiped about almost everything. Chris, the little one of Ben and Lei (also the only boy), stayed with the girls and crawled from one side of the blanket to the other side, occasionally escaping to the edge of the blanket to taste the fresh grass, until we pulled him back to our side.

Within forty minutes, everything was cooked. So began the feast. Drinks were poured, a birthday toast was given, and jokes were cracked, followed by lots of laughs. The climax of the party, of course, was all about cake! Black Forest cake itself made an excellent presentation, not to mention lots of birthday candles on top of it. Rai and I blew the candles together after I made my wishes. Everyone thought the cake was yummy, even little Chris made a positive comment of ‘wum…wum..wum’ although he did not even try the cake! (he was too young to have cake).

Gee, I loved this! Beautiful scenery of the park, beautiful people, celebration of birthday (life)…bags of fun!

10 November 2012

Sally gateToday, Rai and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne to enjoy greener and fresher attractions. Consisting of over 10 000 native and non-native vegetation species, these 38-hectare landscaped gardens are regarded as the finest botanical gardens in Australia, also among the best in the world. 

After we parked the car, we walked on the Tan; the most frequently used running location by joggers in Melbourne. It’s a 3.8-kilometer running track and has a surface of tan-coloured aggregate. Although the Tan Track is its official name, Melbournians affectionately call it the Tan.

Passing by the Observatory Gate, we met our tour guide, John, at the information centre. After a brief introduction, the walk started from the National Herbarium of Victoria. A strange-looking Harry Potter movie tree was our first stop. It’s a Cockscomb Coral-Tree from South America. John said the tree’s branches are pruned annually without disturbing callusing ‘knuckles’ to provide a spectacular floral display. It certainly looked spooky to me!

On the way to the Tropical Glasshouse, he revealed a very interesting anecdote: the gardens used to be home to flying foxes, which are not only noisy, but also mark their territory with urine that has a disgusting odour. Loads of noises were played to scare away those creatures, and the most effective one was the noise of street sweepers!

Sally treeOutside the Tropical Glasshouse, we saw flowers from a Devil’s Hand Tree (also called Mexican Hand Tree). Regardless of the scary name, it is an unusual and rare tree with wonderful, one-of-a-kind beautiful flowers. The flower John showed us had five red stamens that opened up like fingers, with yellow pollen on the ‘knuckles’. And the ‘fingers’ curled under like a clawed hand! Guess that’s where its name comes from. 

We stood in front of a huge Hoop Pine, looking up to find the highest branch. For Hoop Pines, it might take up to 200 years to seed. The trees were once logged for flooring, furniture and matchsticks. Ice cream sticks were also made from them. The Mexican Weeping Pine looked like a gigantic vertical green base with millions of brooms clinging to it. It was planted by Her Imperial Majesty, The Shahbanou of Iran (the former Queen and Empress of Iran), and a controversial historic figure. The Separation Tree witnessed the celebration of Victoria’s declaration of separating from New South Wales in 1851. This 300-year-old river Red Gum is even older than the Gardens, which were established in 1846. John also showed us another unique plant, called a Birdlime Tree. The interesting factor of this tree is that its flowers are very sticky and some small birds get caught by those flowers and fertilize other trees later on.

Sally flowerBellbirds’ chirps accompanied us all the way to the Volcano. It’s a volcanic-crater shaped water reservoir, with its boardwalks and viewing platforms providing us with the opportunity to explore this long-hidden landscape. It was designed to showcase low-water plants and has millions of them. Some of those plants had bright coloured blossoms on the top, acting as a delicious feast to our eyes. I was particularly amazed at the concept of ‘floating islands’, one of the many ways to save water, as well as protect plants (using nets) from birds.  Walking down the lava flow lawns of the Volcano was also a lovely experience.

On Long Island, I discovered something interesting; a string of footprints on the footpath. Who do those footprints belong to? Early Indigenous Australians? Visitors? Or simply a practical joke from the construction workers then? I guess it’s an open answered question. Whatever answer suits your imagination is the right one!

Everything in the Plant Craft Cottage is made of plants, dry leaves, branches, stems and tree bark etc, we certainly found ourselves at home in the gallery. This Cottage is also the first permanent building in the Botanic Gardens and the temporary residence for Victoria’s first government botanist, Dr Mueller, until his permanent residence was built.

When we were standing inside the Temple of the Winds (Pavilion), we found there was an arrow painted on the floor, pointing to True North. We’re not sure what this arrow stands for, John told us the Temple of the Winds is the highest point of the Gardens and has a magnificent view of inner city Melbourne. We couldn’t agree more.

We farewelled John, and sat outside the Terrace Restaurant and rewarded ourselves with the best-tasting wedges (according to John) and yummy hot chocolates. Ornamental Lake, which water birds called home, was right in front us. Feet up, wedges eaten, hot chocolate half finished, sunshine and a breeze massaging our skin. We ranked today’s trip 10 out of 10!

28 October 2012

Sally WaterwallThe National Gallery of Victoria, the biggest and best gallery in Australia and one of the biggest and best in the world, was founded some 40 years before the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, it was also opened more than a century before the National Gallery in Canberra. It has two parts – the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, which Rai and I visited at the end of 2011, and NGV International where we spent a whole day, taking a dip in this sea of artworks.

Passing by the two fountains at the front, we were welcomed by the flowing water cascading down the glass of the Waterwall. It certainly was popular among kids when we arrived. Watching younger children playing with water flowing down the glass was very entertaining. Leaving the bustle of the city behind, we passed through the entrance and immediately embraced by the calm ambience of the Gallery.

The tour guide lady was professional and humorous. She started with the water trail of NGV. In Australia, we are the driest continent in the world, so it is essential that we all work together to protect this precious resource and ensure a sustainable water future. Therefore, the water trail has been developed to promote the value of water and water conservation to NGV visitors. Here is how the Water Management Plan works:

When it rains, water collects on the roof of NGV International and runs into the building’s gutters. The rain water is fed into underground water tanks and when required, pumped through a treatment plant into the moat system. The entire system, including the Waterwall, five moats and four fountains, is designed to use a continually circulating supply of harvested rain water.

Both Rai and I were amazed by this water trail. It’s a fantastic idea to educate visitors and get the water saving message across to the public, especially among the young generation. At the end of the day, we only have one planet and one huge water system to share!

SallyWe went through the Fashion & Textiles Gallery, European Collections and Contemporary Exhibitions, which are spread on three floors. Seeing a variety of artworks and enjoying the classic interpretation from the guide made the trip extremely pleasant and informative. If Rai and I were wandering around without the professionals guiding us, we would not enjoy the visit as much as we did.

Here’s one interesting fact on ‘Picasso theft’. Pablo Picasso's painting The Weeping Woman was stolen in 1986 by a person or group who identified themselves as ‘Australian Cultural Terrorists’. The group took the painting to protest the perceived poor treatment of the arts by the state government of the time and sought as a ransom the establishment of an art prize for young artists. The painting was returned in a railway locker a week later. From our perspective, those ‘Australian Cultural Terrorists’ definitely did a very good job!

The Leonard French ceiling is another unique feature of the Gallery. Being one of the world’s largest pieces of suspended stained glass, it shines day and night projecting 37 colours.

We had a ball in today! The only thing we felt pity was we could not admire the Asian Gallery due to its preparation for the upcoming exhibitions. However, on the bright side, it might be the very good reason for us to come back in the near future. Yes, we will come back. See you soon, NGV!

14 October 2012

Architectural FragmentFounded in 1854, the State Library of Victoria was one of the first free public libraries in the world. It holds books, serials, photos and other publications that reflect Victoria’s cultural and social heritage. Although I have been to this library several times, I have never had the chance to really have a good look around at this fantastic place. Today, Rai and I arranged a special trip to unveil the beauty of this resource centre.

Outside the library, the first statue that drew our attention was a sculpture – Architectural Fragment. Based on a detail of the Library’s portico, it lies at the corner of Swanston Street and La Trobe Street and forms a sharp contrast compared with other statues on the lawn. We also said hello to statues of Sir Redmond Barry and Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe, two founders of the Library.

The guided tour started at 2pm from the foyer. Passing through the spacious and much crowded Information Centre, we stepped up into Gowen Gallery, which is richly decorated with artworks, including scenes of European settlement, colonial and contemporary portraits and early Melbourne streetscapes. The picture collection in this gallery is also the oldest visual documentary collection in Australia.

The corners of the Information Centre are the former courtyards, which used to be car parking spots for Library visitors. Nowadays, they have been roofed over and transformed into four different rooms, in which we could still see the Library’s huge stained-glass and original walls.

‘The changing face of Victoria’ is the permanent exhibition in the Library, featuring historical images, documents and artefacts. It even displays the original armour of Ned Kelly, the infamous and controversial bush ranger of Victoria. Some of the displayed posters were quite well-known in Rai’s childhood, so he was quite happy to see them again after so many years. For me, lots of knowledge has been absorbed into ‘Sally’s information sponge’, super!

LibraryLa Trobe Domed Reading Room opened on 14 November 1913, so it is now 99 years old. After we entered this room, I immediately fell in love with it. The yellow-painted long desks, wooden squeaky chairs and green reading lamps reminded us of the library in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Harry Potter). This octagonal space is 34.75m in both diameter and height. Eight long desks radiate from the centre deck towards the shelves full with books along the wall. There used to be a librarian sitting in the centre deck who supervised all the readers, telling off naughty and noisy readers. However, with the help of high speed cameras and computer surveillance, this centre deck has become part of history. We were also told that the dome was the largest of its type in the world on completion. Here we go – another world record!

‘Gusto! A culinary history of Victoria’ was also an interesting exhibition to enjoy! I found the first Australiana cookbook (published in 1864) quite impressive. A gold vegemite jar shows the essential role of ‘happy little Vegemites’ in OZ’s daily life.

After today’s visit, I would have to say that the State Library trip was much better than I expected. Located in the centre of Melbourne, it’s a vibrant place full of history, energy, hope and knowledge. With its world-class collection of books, periodicals, recordings and other materials pertaining to art, music and the performing arts, it hosts thousands of readers and provides them with the tools to reach their goals and satisfy their curiosity!

13 September 2012

SamboOur parrot Sambo loves a bath, shower, or anything to do with water. Sometimes I wonder if maybe he was a waterbird in his previous life.

There are several ways to get Sambo wet and happy. Method one, a bath with a big deep plate filled with water. After we put the plate on the floor, Sambo chirps and jumps onto the floor. Then he hops excitingly towards the plate and quickly dips his chest, wings and belly into the water. Every time he dips into the water, he shakes his feathers with water drops slashing around him. After five minutes, he successfully changes himself into a wet rat.

SamboMethod two is the ‘sprayer shower’. Instead of watering our plants with the water sprayer bottle, we use it as Sambo’s shower tool. This usually occurs when Sambo is wandering around on top of his cage. When he spots the red sprayer container, he kind of whistles and runs towards it. He stops when the water sprays on him, and if we don’t move the bottle and spray around him, he then moves – turns around, left, right, chest, tail and back. I have never seen any animal so keen to get himself wet in such a short time!

Method three – indulge in a shower under the water tap. Every time we turn on the water tap to wash things, Sambo always gallops at full speed and get himself under the tap no matter where he is – on our shoulders, arms, head, back or climbing up along our legs.

Sambo is also toilet trained. When he is with us, he chirps in a unique way if he feels a call of nature, then we put him onto a ladder in his toilet corner with newspaper underneath the ladder. When he is on the ladder, he mumbles something like ‘do it!’, then shakes him bum and ejects ‘number two’ out accompanied with a loud squeaky sound. Last but not least, he cheers ‘well done’ at the end of this routine that occurs every half an hour. We always laugh whenever he does this. Of course, we reward him with good scratches after we pick up this ‘poo free’ bird.

A free range life style is the ultimate goal for Sambo, so he hates staying inside the cage except when he is eating or drinking. During the day time, Rai and I have to put him inside the cage because we are in the workplace and nobody looks after him. By the time we come back from work, Sambo always chirps his head off to get us to open the cage gate and let him out. Both of us thought this is the acceptable and safe arrangement, until one day I came back and found Sambo wondering around the carpet like his free range wild relatives outside. He was obviously very hungry and thirsty, when I put him back inside the cage; he dived into his drink container as if he had been trapped in the desert for a month and finally saw an oasis!

SamboLater on we found out how he escaped the cage – there’re two small gates for food and drink containers. We always see him trying to lift the gate doors with his beak and claws, but he never succeeds. Guess what, he must have made it on that day and enjoyed the freedom to the limit until he realised that he could not get back in for food and water. After we found out the cause; it was damage control time. Rai put a clip on each gate to make sure nobody could lift the gate again. And these two clips have become the ‘enemy’ of Sambo. He grabs every single chance to attack the peg and try to unscrew it from the gate. I worry that one day he will unscrew it but Rai thinks that’s impossible, unless Sambo has fingers to do it.

It has been one and half years since Sambo came along, he certainly has turned himself into a talkative and adventurous creature in the house! Well done, Sambo!

28 August 2012

Victoria government Treasury Reserve Precinct has been the centre of Victoria government administration for almost 150 years. Including One Treasury Place (also known as the State Government Office), Two Treasury Place (occupied by The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development), Three and Four Treasury Place (Commonwealth Offices) and the Old Treasury Building, it is of social, historical, aesthetic and architectural significance to the state of Victoria.

Rai and I joined a walking tour of Treasury Reserve and explored this interesting place. One Treasury Place is home to the Premier and Cabinet and Department of Treasury and Finance. The land was once a paddock that was used by a caretaker who lived in the Old Treasury Building. For me, it’s a very different building from the rest of the Precinct – the colour, the design, the decorations and the materials. The only thing that is similar to the other buildings is its height. Back in 1962 an architectural competition was held that invited various parties to submit a design plan for this section of Treasury Reserve. Although the then government’s wish was to express ‘soaring wonderment’, the tower-like construction design plans would destroy Melbourne’s best vista, looking eastward from the top of Collins Street. That is why this building now looks rather plain and slightly lower than Old Treasury Building.

Huang Dong PingWe went inside Two Treasury Place, which overlooks Treasury Gardens. Designed by Michael Egan, it’s one of the oldest institutions in Victoria, as well as an excellent example of Renaissance-revival architecture. Rai and I were particularly impressed by the magnificent staircase and stained glass windows. Our tour guide commented, ‘imagine a proud father holding his daughter’s hand coming down these stairs to present her to the groom.’

The tour presented us with the open atrium behind the foyer of 41 St Andrew’s Place, the former Printer’s Office, the giant steel shutters to protect the files from the fire and all facades of key buildings. As Melbournians, Rai and I have been to Treasury Reserve Precinct many times, but it’s only today that we finally discovered the beauty of this place. We felt super!


30 July 2012

Sally ParliamentDuring last year’s Melbourne Open House day, Rai and I planned to visit the Parliament House of Victoria. However, due to a clashed timetable, we went to see the Old Treasury Building and Government House instead. Today we arrived early and signed up for the first tour group for the Parliament House of Victoria. Whoooo!

While lining up in the queue, we received ‘red carpet treatment’ – everyone was standing on a red carpet waiting for their turn to enter. Good start! The vestibule, the main entrance hall to Parliament House, presented us with a mosaic of the Royal Crest encircled by this quotation from proverbs, ‘Where no Counsel is, the people Fall; but in the Multitude of Counsellors there is Safety’.

The two Chambers are separated by Queen’s Hall, which was named in honour of Queen Victoria. Our tour guide, Martin, disclosed some interesting facts about the statue of Queen Victoria. There were actually five statues presented to Queen Victoria after they were completed, but the Queen didn’t like them, due to her dress taste (the statues exposed too much of her neck and arms) and the feet positioning. So she ordered to send these statues to far corners (colonies) of the British Empire. That’s why Australia has one today. The ground level of Queen’s Hall also features portraits of former Premiers of Victoria.

The interior of the Assembly Chamber is decorated in green, which was adopted from the British House of Commons, reminding us of the influence Westminster’s heritage and tradition has. Tour guide Martin asked everyone to sit and pretend to be a parliamentarian of today; I chose the speaker’s seat and sat on this spacious green armchair comfortably. In front of my table, there were three clerks’ chairs. The sandglass sitting on the clerks’ table is used to time the ring of the bell, after two and half minutes, the sandglass will show it’s time up and the door of the Chamber will be closed. Then no one will be allowed to enter the Chamber. On the speaker’s right side is the ruling party of government, and the opposition sits on the left. This tradition also originated from the Westminster system – God is always on our right side. Above our heads, there’re three Waterford crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, shining and magnificent!

Parliament doorThe Parliament Library is the second oldest library of Victoria. I particularly liked the ladders there; they really made me want to climb on top of them and grab a book from the top shelf. The librarian mentioned that the opening hours of this library are the same as the parliament sitting hours, so if the parliament debate is not finish until 2o’clock in the morning, the librarians would be here burning the mid-night oil too!

The Council Chamber’s interior is decorated in red, the colour of loyalty. It is exactly the same size as the Assembly Chamber, although it appears smaller due to its larger chairs, settings and freestone columns.  Roman Corinthian style architecture including the Royal Lion, Crown and Unicorn sit on top of the canopy behind the President’s chair and make this Chamber the Royal House. There is also a chair behind the President’s chair and only two people in this world can sit on it – the Queen of the Commonwealth and the Governor General of Australia.

The Parliament House building itself is a very fine piece of architecture, as well as one of Melbourne’s best known landmarks. With sweeping steps, elegant lamps, grand colonnade, it presents the public with a great vision of 19th century architect, Peter Kerr. Although not complete, it hosted the federal parliament for nearly three decades, and serves as a great place for Victoria’s state law-making process. Today Rai and I had a great time participating in the Parliament House tour and we felt privileged to visit this amazing historical building!

8 July 2012

On Rai’s birthday, we went to Healesville Sanctuary to revisit the native animals of Australia. Bekki with the Birds is the newest program and of course it’s the must-see for us.

Sally and parrotsWe arrived a little bit earlier before the opening time of this new Land of Parrots Aviary. All the colorful birds were just waking up and greeting each other with loud chirps. A Black Cockatoo was extremely friendly and climbed up and down along the aviary wall chasing our hands. The keeper finally came and guided us into this parrot paradise. When holding the seeds on our hands, all the birds swarmed to us. Two Eclectus Parrots were particularly active. The keeper told us that unlike other Parrots, the Eclectus Parrots are very unique. Here’re some facts:


  • Once thought to be two different species, you can always tell the male Eclectus from females by their distinctive colouring. 
  • The red and blue female Eclectus is visible in her nest hollow, acting as a beacon so her mate can find her. 
  • The well camouflaged emerald green male travels up to 20 kilometres in search of fruit, nuts and seeds for himself and his family.

An early bird Parrot Magic Moment followed by a delicious house-baked muffin and hot drink at Sanctuary Harvest Café made our day!

Sally and a koalaA close encounter with a sleepy Koala was another interesting experience! We actually expected to see active Koalas because fresh gum leaves were on the menu and they were supposed to wake up and munch on these delicious snacks. However, when we got into the enclosure, they were still dreaming. We have seen koalas several times, but none of these visits put us in such a close position. Only several inches away from the Koala, I could even feel its breath. It curled up like a big fluffy hairy ball and sat on its bottom. Regardless of our moving and whispering, the Koalas still slept. Gee, if there was a ‘Deep Sleep Olympic’, they must be the champions.

We went to the Tasmanian Devils enclosure and learned about their plight and the successful breeding program. We visited the Platypi and watched them chasing the shrimps in the water. We said hello to the Wombats and found out an interesting fact – they do square poos…

On the way home, both Rai and I agreed that we should go to visit our animal friends more often and planned to be the volunteers in zoos in the near future!

Birthday cakeOf course Rai’s birthday celebration had not finished. Here we were; Rai was baking his well-known pumpkin scones and I was preparing a fruit platter, chocolate, chips, soft drinks, lollies and all sorts of party snacks. Yes, we’re going to have a birthday party! We invited Ben and Lei’s family to join the party. Although Ben and Lei had been to our place many times, it’s the first time for Chirs, Ben and Lei’s little one and Lei’s mother, who came from China recently to visit our house.

Chris’s pram was parked beside our table and he sat there watching everybody curiously and nervously. Lei said usually Chris gets bit nervous in new environments and becomes restless. But after one hour, Chris was still quiet and looked relaxed. I guess he liked our place.

Our parrot Sambo was another star of today’s gathering. He was wrapped in a tea towel and being a copy cow. He laughed and coughed after us. He repeated ‘good boy’, ‘hello Sambo’, ‘well done’, ‘nice’, ‘bye’…every time he said the words; all of us just laughed. It’s quite amazing. Such a little bird could amuse all of us! As a reward, Sambo had a little bit of birthday cake for his astonishing performance.

18 June 2012

Sally Luna Park2012 celebrates Lunar Park’s 100 years of fun-filled adventures, Rai and I joined the crowd and spent the whole day at this Melbourne icon. Overlooking the famous Port Phillip Bay, this historic park has been a destination for Melbournians for the past century and it hosted us with its Scenic Railway Roller Coaster, the oldest continually operating wooden roller coaster in the world, as well as other jaw-dropping rides.

Upon arrival, Mr Moon’s big smiling face and giant mouth made us feel welcome. The first ride I jumped on was magic carousel, also known as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. It brought all fond memories of my childhood back to me – I went to a theme park and rode a carousel horse with my parents and my brother when I was young.  I enjoyed the horse ride by half closing my eyes, Rai took pictures of me and laughed out loud. Who cares! I did three rounds of the carousel anyway, regardless of Rai’s loud laughter. 

Now it’s rock and roll time! The extremely long queue in front of the Scenic Railway proved that after 100 years, it’s still the most popular ride. Thirty minutes waiting time made us crave for the ride. We happened to sit in the middle of the train and behind us was the brakeman – who controlled the brake, as well as the fate of every single passenger. We noticed he was the only one on this trip, not only standing up, but also without a seatbelt. Like the advertisement mentioned, the ride did provide us with ‘heart-stopping dips and turns’ but regarding the stunning views of Port Phillip Bay, we certainly missed  it – we were too busy hanging onto the handles and screaming loud! After we stepped on the stable and non-moving ground, Rai suggested doing something more relaxed and easy, I couldn’t agree more.

So here came the ‘Street Legal Dodgems’. Buckled up, Rai and I were ready to race. The only disappointment about this was that we could only drive the cars clockwise, not the other way around. Sounded like too many regulations! But we still had a ball. Rai chased my vehicle at the highest speed he could manage, but he was still inches behind me. Haha, I was the better driver.

Sitting in the swinging carriage of the classic Ferris wheel was quite enjoyable. The whole park, even all of St Kilda Bay was present in front of our eyes. Sitting with my beloved one and enjoying the amazing view of Port Phillip Bay, basking in the sunshine, I guess I couldn’t ask for more!

Sally ridePharaoh’s Curse was the last ride Rai and I tried as a team. After we picked our jaws off the ground and put our eyes back in the sockets, Rai delightedly announced his retirement as a rider, he suggested he would do the picture-taking and film-making stuff while I was enjoyed the rest of the rides.

Therefore, as a solo adventurer, I explored lots with the full support of Rai. The ‘G-Force’ ride lifted me up and spun me around like nothing else could. ‘Metropolis’ was a mini roller coaster journey full of darts and twists. The ‘Coney Island Top Drop’ was a bouncy trip that had me bouncing four stories high and the ‘Twin Dragon Pirate Ship’ swung high above sea level and left me with sea-sickness.

I would have to say today was a great day out! It seemed that both Rai and I went back to our childhood and a careless time. With heaps of laughter and screams, we would mark today as our mad children happy day!

23 May 2012

Sally and bunnyOur friend, Ben’s birthday was around the corner, so we went shopping for his birthday party. The shopping centre’s settings were as usual except one thing – the passionate Easter Bunny giving away chocolate eggs and brochures.

Loving this pink-eared giant white rabbit, I stopped and chatted with him. Of course, the last bit of socialising was having a picture taken with him and then a wave goodbye. Rai kept smiling and commented that I acted just like a little girl who chased the Easter Bunny in a shopping centre. I guess there’s still a child in all of us. There certainly was one in me.

There is definitely one new born baby in Ben and Lei’s household. Little boy Chris is their first born and has brought lots of change to their lifestyle, including the way to celebrate Ben’s birthday. Instead of going out, having birthday dinner at a restaurant, this year’s birthday celebration was to be held in Ben’s backyard in the form of afternoon tea party.

Upon arrival to Ben and Lei’s place, I pressed the door bell with excitement. The front door was open, and a total stranger appeared with puzzlement on his face. He asked us who we were and who we were after. I told him that we came here for Ben’s birthday party and this was his house, we came here about two weeks ago visiting Ben and Lei. He replied that Ben and Lei have sold the house one week ago and they do not live here anymore. He was so serious, Rai started believing him. Rai dragged me aside and suggested that we should go back to the car to contact Ben. I didn’t buy the story! This was just too weird to be true. I questioned him, ‘Who are you then? Are you one of Ben’s friends coming to his party? Or are you Ben’s father? Where did Ben move to? When did they sell the house?’ Gee, the stranger was really calm! He did not laugh at all when answering my questions. I was still very suspicious, so I got my mobile phone out and started dialling Ben’s number. Ben picked up the phone and I could hear his giggling. He told me that he actually was hiding in the backyard, holding their laughter with Lei and his mum when ‘the show began.’

So here’s story: Ben’s Mum and Dad came from Adelaide to surprise Ben for his birthday, and then all of them decided to surprise us by playing this practical joke because we had never met Ben’s parents before. Everybody was laughing to the point of tears when we talked about this ‘Sally and stranger saga’ during the party. I now knew where Ben’s joke-cracking ability came from – like father, like son!

Surrounded by his beloved family and friends, Ben made his birthday wishes and blew out the candles. The cake was nice, however the favourite sweet was Rai’s home-backed pumpkin scones. Everyone was relaxing and chatting while the sun flung bright rays on the backyard’s grass. Little Chris was lying in his pram, staring at everyone curiously and mumbling with words only he knew. It seemed that he was trying to say Happy Birthday to Ben, too! We had taken many photos with Chris, and every single picture showed that Chris has different facial expressions: smiling, laughing, frowning, wondering and yawning. It really made me believe that he has the potential to become a young star for advertising baby products. Way to go, Chris!

30 April 2012

Sally horseWith an easily accessible all-vehicle bridge from Phillip Island, Churchill Island Heritage Farm is a destination to witness hands-on farming demonstrations reminiscent of its important role in the history of European settlement in Victoria.

Rai and I arrived pretty early and started our exploration of this island on the walking track. Along the walking track, there were many moonahs – the gnarled trees with trunks that look like twisted rope. Fifty-million year old basalt rocks also intrigued us; they are the foundation stones of Churchill Island. A variety of waterbirds can be seen wondering around in the mudflats – chirping and talking to each other, trimming feather, getting fed and playing with each other.

Saying farewell to jet-setting water birds, we went back inside the farm. Lucky us, there were heaps of farm activities available for us to experience. The Wagon Ride was our first try. Max, the working horse that dragged the wagon was a beautiful creature and his feet were huge and surrounded by a lot of hair. The driver said that the feet of a working horse is usually the size of a dinner plate. The ride was a short but pleasant trip. After that, we went straight away to the Black Smith Workshop. The show demonstrated how to make horseshoes and other important farm tools more than a century ago. Rai and I also could not resist the temptation of a ‘Lucky Horseshoe’, so we bought one to bring more luck to our life! Now it is hanging in our place, booming with good luck!

Chatting time with Max was cosy! He finished his duty as a working horse today and was enjoying the sunshine. I grabbed a handful of dry hail and fed him. Gee, his tongue was warm and wet! After several rounds of licking my palm, there was nothing left but Max’s wet ‘welcome’ mouth water. I was talking to him when I fed him, he seemed like he understood what I said and kept nodding his head. His hair was long and tough; sometimes it totally covered his face and eyes.

Sally beachWorking dog Tonka was well liked by everyone among the audience! She was smart, quick, loyal and humorous. Every manoeuvre she made was under the instruction of the trainer. She followed the order precisely and chased the sheep to the spot that the trainer pointed at. She not only knew how to manage the sheep, but also showed us the talent of farming turkeys. We were all amazed at her performance and gave her lots of rounds of applause.

The cow milking activity was fun to watch, whip cracking was more difficult to do by myself than just observing others. The sheep shearing demonstration was totally new to me too. Gee, it only took the shearer a couple of minutes to do a sheep. That was super quick!

Gorge, the sulphur-crested cockatoo attracted our attention too. Being over 50 years old, he was found in the wild as a young bird and taken to live with a family for 45 years. He obviously sensed that we were a bird’s ‘parents’ and caring for parrot Sam, because after several minutes observation, he came straight to us and started bird versus human conversation. Whatever we said he just tried to repeat. Good to talk to you George!

Cape Woolamai is home to the largest colony of short-tailed shearwaters on Phillip Island and is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Australia. We arrived there at around 4pm on a windy day, maybe because of the windy weather, maybe the time (late in the afternoon); there was not a single surfer down in the sea. However, the waves and fresh air filling with negative irons invited us to join the beach for a walk. I took off my shoes and stepped on the soft sand and I felt a little bit chilly and ticklish. The breeze and the sand worked in coalition to massage my feet. Drawing pictures with my bare foot on the massive beach was another enjoyable activity. We also found some cuttlefish bones and thought they might be a great souvenir for Sam (our parrot). And we were right; Sam loves it and chews on it every day!

19 April 2012

Sally sealPhillip Island, only two hours drive from Melbourne, hosted Rai and I for the whole weekend. We loved it!

Our first destination was the Nobbies Centre, which overlooks the wild water of the Bass Strait. Inside the Centre, we went through showcases of Australian fur seals and other unique marine life in our Southern Oceans. Outside the Centre, we strolled along boardwalks with magnificent views of Seal Rock and the Blowhole. Only two kilometres offshore from the Nobbies, Seal Rock is an important breeding ground and nursery for over 20 000 Australian fur seals. It is also the closest seal colony to a major city in Australia. Because it was not breeding season, plus the long distance, we did not see any fur seals with our naked eyes. However, we did see something special – a little penguin hiding underneath the boardwalk. I spotted it from about 20 metres away; its white belly attracted my attention. We could see it through the crack of boardwalk right above him. It seemed that he had gotten used to the limelight and human beings, so no matter how loud the kids screamed – ‘look, a little penguin’ he just stood still and concentrated on preening his feather. I bet he was waiting for his parents to come back with plenty of fish!

From the boardwalk, we also noticed lots of wooden burrows spread around the grass land. These burrows are manmade and provide a shelter for little penguins. After male penguins choose the burrows and establish their territory, they stand outside their burrow to attract a mate. When the females have chosen a mate (the fat ones seem to be the most popular ones because they proved that they are very good fishermen), the pair begin a courtship display, which is very loud.
The Phillip Island Penguin Parade is one of Australia’s most popular wildlife attractions, so Rai and I pre-booked the tickets a month in advance. We signed up with the Penguins Plus platform that only provides 190 seats, lucky we got the tickets before they sold out!

The penguin colony on Phillip Island is the only one left – there were once ten. The penguins we were going to see were Little Penguins (Fairy Penguins) – they are about 33cm high and weigh approximately one kilogram. They are the smallest out of the 17 species of penguin but they make up for it with a lot of noise!

Sally penguinsInside the Phillip Island Penguin Parade there are lots of presentation boards about the life of Little Penguins. The most unforgettable presentation board was the one right behind a stand that was full of fluffy penguin toys with colourful sweaters on them. It read: ‘When Little Penguins swim into an oil spill, they are no longer waterproof because their feathers are coated with oil. We find them when they come ashore cold and exhausted. A jumper is put on the penguin to stop it from preening the poisonous oil from its feathers before we wash it. They remain in our animal hospital until they are waterproof and well enough to go back out to sea. People from around the world knit jumpers for our penguins.’

When I was reading it, I felt sad about those poor little ones who got oil all over them, but at the same time, we also felt relieved because there are so many people who care about them and try extremely hard to save them!

We were seated at around 7.30pm at the platform where the Ranger did some briefing about Little Penguins:

  • In order to avoid predators, Little Penguins became nocturnal birds
  • After a whole day or several days of fishing, they usually come onshore at dawn
  • When they swim towards the beach, they make very loud echoes trying to gather and land onshore in groups for security reasons
  • Little Penguins are very good walkers and can walk for a very long distance
  • They always follow the same route back home and never get lost
  • The divorce rate amongst penguins is 17 per cent, so it’s not a surprise that many have to find a new mate each year
  • Little Penguins  get all the water they need from the sea while catching fish
  • They sleep by floating on the sea surface

At around 8.15pm, someone started pointing at the beach – ‘look, the first group of penguins!’ Everybody turned around and looked in that direction. Yes, here they came! Wobbling along the sand and vegetation, they marched slowly toward us. Then they stopped, chirping towards each other as if they were greeting and chatting about the fish trip. After several minutes of socialising, they kept going. Twenty metres behind them, several other groups followed. For about an hour, we saw 600 to 800 penguins walking by us. The closest ones were about one metre away. That was awesome!

20 March 2012

Sally Opera HouseAlthough Rai and I stayed in Sydney for only three days, we made the most of this trip!

The Essential Tour of Sydney Opera House is so named because it really is one of Sydney’s must-dos. We followed the friendly tour guide inside this World Heritage masterpiece and stayed in the inspired theatres where first-class performances and events are staged every year. The tour not only brought to life the dramatic saga of how Danish architect Jorn Utzon’s groundbreaking design and great vision came into existence, but also unveiled many interesting facts:

  • There is no gutters for the roof, instead the water is drained away through the unique foot path
  • Standing on the balcony, you can see the beautiful reflection of Sydney Harbour Bridge in the glass of the foyer
  • The revenue-raising Opera House Lottery collected some A$102 million, which was almost the cost of building the Opera House
  • The cutting-edge nature of the technology used for the Opera House lead to the establishment of a testing laboratory at the University of New South Wales, making it the first one in the world to commercialise university research

Although we have seen this building many times in the media, it was the first time for us to actually walk inside it and witness this world wonder. The extraordinary version and sophisticated design technology made us speechless. Hence I cited the acknowledgement from an Architect, ‘The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.’

Sally Sydney Harbour BridgeSydney Harbour Bridge is indispensable to the Opera House, and is another wonder we cannot afford to miss out on. Eighty-nine metres above sea level, we stood at Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout and enjoyed the magnificent bird’s eye view – the white billowing silhouette of Sydney Opera House shinning under the sunshine; Kirribilli house (the Prime Minister’s residence) half hidden in the tree shade; the bustle of Sydney Harbor and Circular Quay; boats, yachts and super ships sailing in the gentle waves of Sydney Harbor; the outline of Morden Sydney against the sky-blue background.

The museum down the Pylon displayed lots of documents on how the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. The most interesting quote is this: ‘A whole lot of cats used to live in a roof-top cattery here. They were owned by Yvonne Rentoul who managed the All Australian Exhibition between 1948 and 1971. Her cats were very popular with the visiting public’. Oh yes, if the cats were still there, they would definitely be popular with us!

Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a World Heritage site, is an important landmark that displays more than 50 000 convicts who lived and worked here during its 190 year history. Inside this historical building, we explored the stories through paintings, pictures and documents of the colony. We admired one of the finest works of the accomplished colonial architect, Francis Greenway, who was himself a convict; we climbed into the hammocks and imagined a convict snoring beside us; we also found some forgotten, lost and hidden treasures underneath the floorboards.

Three days with a busy travelling schedule obviously was not enough to experience Sydney, so here is our decision: We will be back, Sydney!

28 February 2012

SallyI have been to the Great Blue Mountains in 2007 when I was a student, however my memory was vague and the only thing I could remember was the blue haze that covered the distant ranges. Five years later, Rai and I revisited this beautiful place.

We stayed in Katoomba, the largest town in the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is one of only two regions that have cities so low below sea level in the Southern Hemisphere. The Scenic Railway was only five minutes’ walk from our accommodation, so it became our first destination. Renowned as the world’s steepest railway, the Scenic Railway drops some 400 metres within only a few minutes. We certainly found it quite a thrilling ride. What surprised us the most was the boardwalk through the ancient rainforest at the bottom of the railway. In the forest, we could feel the serenity!

Echo Point looked like a forever-busy ‘United Nation Assembly’ where visitors from all over the world gathered to enjoy the beauty of the Three Sisters. Rai and I took several walk paths to different lookouts and discovered the various faces of James Valley. We went to see the sunset almost every evening at Echo Point and never got bored of it because the sunset was always different from the day before, except the performance of the Scottish Pipes, which was precisely the same every day.

Jenolan Caves was a long drive from Katoomba, but it was totally worthy the petrol! Upon arrival, the world’s oldest caves presented us with Blue Lake and Carlotta’s Arch. We could not help ourselves when exploring the Blue Lake by walking along its loop. The dark blue water stays silently in the lake, like a beautiful but shy lady. Rai saw two playful platypus and the ripples left by them. I spotted a lizard camouflaging on a rock having a sunbath. After viewing the above-ground spectacular formations, we went underground. The Cathedral Chamber, over 50 meters high, is located at Lucas Cave. It is the venue for monthly cello and gypsy music concerts, and is also used for wedding ceremonies and recitals. Gee, it must be very special to get married there! The tour guide even played some recorded music. The echo of the music amazed everyone! River Cave features the Grand Column, the Queen’s Canopy and the River Styx. It was first time for me to see the underground river, with the electric light reflecting on the river surface, it looked a rainbow laying down still in the river bed. I felt like Alice in the Wonder Land, surrounded by all those amazing and unfamiliar formations.

SallyWe spent a whole day in Mountain Tomah Botanic Garden, wandering around Gondwana Forest and having a close encounter with Wollemi Pines. Sitting in Norman Lindsay’s private study room, we listened carefully about the life stories of this outstanding artist and his wife. We stood on the famous Flat Rock, looking down at the Kings Tableland and the interesting geographic features of the Great Blue Mountains. Indulging in the vast collection of teapots at Bygone Beauty’s and walking through the Prime Minister’s Corridor of Oaks was also counted as an unforgettable experience.

If anyone asks me why we love the Great Blue Mountains, I might not be able to list all my explanations. But if you ask me whether we want to go back to visit, I will definitely say yes. It is a place full of joys, relaxation, adventures and smiling faces!

14 February 2012

SallyAustralia Day, the official National day of Australia, is celebrated on 26 January annually. The date commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. Rai and I joined the crowd to celebrate this special day at the King’s Domain Gardens, the front yard of Governor’s House.

On the lawn, there were several tents with sizzling barbecued sausages and ice-cream. I jumped into the sausage line and Rai went straight to ice-cream queue. On this warm sunny Australia Day, traditional Australian barbecued sausages and yummy ice-cream were absolutely necessary. Rai and I squeezed into the shade of a tent and hummed with the performance of Code one performed by the Police Rock Band.

The Governor of Victoria and Mrs Chernov came along to greet the crowd. The Governor gave a brief and entertaining speech that was dotted with jokes, which made all of us laugh. After the speech, he started walking around and chatting with people. When he shook my hand and said, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I could feel his handshake was strong and welcoming. When I introduced Rai, he smiled and added the comment, ‘Not only the husband, but also the personal photographer!’ I laughed and said I could not agree anymore.

The RoulettesWith the live music performance going on, the audience was sitting on chairs, laying down on the lawn or walking around mingling. We were all waiting for today’s leading performance – the Roulettes. The Roulettes are the Royal Australian Air Force's elite formation aerobatic display team that showcase Air Force flying skills to the Australian public. At 2.30pm, we heard them coming. Six Pilatus PC-9 aircrafts lined abreast and flew over the King’s Domain Gardens with smoke trails. All of the sudden, everything fell into silence. The music stopped, people stopped chatting and moving around, even the running-around little ones stood still and looked up into the sky. I have never watched the live display of formation flying before, not to mention such a brilliant and precise performance. It absolutely blew my mind and made the 30 minute show pass just like a blink.

This year was the first time I celebrated Australia Day and I really had a ball. The more time I spend in Melbourne, the stronger feeling of belonging I have. I love this feeling and I believe I will have more!

31 January 2012

Sally and cheetahRai and I spent nearly a week in Canberra and we fell in love with this green and unique city.

Compared to Melbourne, it is greener and the roads are much wider for cars to drive. There are pot plants hanging on the street lights to mark the National Capital status. Most of the historical attractions are located in the CBD or surrounding areas, therefore easy for us to visit.

We started our exploration from Commonwealth Place. The International Flag Display has 90 plus flags flying in the breeze. The Australian of the Year Walk along Lake Burley Griffin demonstrates the record of Australian of the Year winners. The Captain Cook Memorial jet is 147 metres high and certainly killed a lot of our camera battery.

The National Zoo is Australian’s only combined Zoo and Aquarium, despite its small size, it is a cosy place with a lot of interactive programs available for visitors to have close encounter with animals. We signed up for the ‘pat the cheetah’ program online a month before we came to the zoo. After receiving the briefing from keepers, we went through several security doors and saw Shasta pacing slowly on the grassland. She’s the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, and believe it or not, cheetahs are the fastest cats, reaching speeds of 110km/h in a matter of seconds. Shasta walked to the corner, stopped and laid down on her stomach.

Sally and coinWe sat down by her side and gave her a bit of stroke. She seemed to enjoyed the massage on her head and started purring like a cat, although much louder in volume. With the massage continuing, her purring became louder. According to her keepers, it was a sign indicating that Shasta liked our company. I also noticed Shasta was very clean and did not smell at all. Her keepers told us that cheetahs are the cleanest cats on the planet.

Canberra Space Centre, the largest antenna complex in the southern hemisphere, has three active antennas and several retired ones, among them, DSS46 is most famous. It receieved and relayed to the world the first historic TV images of astronaut Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon in July 1969. I was very excited to see it standing outside the discovery centre. Inside the centre, Rai and I were indulgent in the amazing findings of the space—the sophisticated engineering skills, the space food and the space suit, flag wavering on the moon (considering there is no wind at all), the rock from the moon and the Skylab. We joked that this trip was certainly a ‘knowledge absorbing session’.

Our itinerary was planned to the minute and we still found our time was not enough: the Royal Australian Mint journey was all about coins; Renaissance in the National Gallery of Australia was packed with people; the Australian War Memorial’s 90 minute guided tour was full of historical events; watching documentaries at the revolving theatre in the National Museum of Australia was an amazing experience.
Wandering around the National Botanic Gardens and enjoying the plants’ stories told by the experienced tour guide. The Black Mountain Tower presented us with a 360 degree view of Canberra and the surrounding rural area… I remember one of my friends said that we only need one or two days to go through all places in Canberra because it is a such small man-made city, but we would like to disagree. For us, it is a well-designed city full of excitement and surprises!

17 January 2012

The Ian Potter Centre of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) not only collects fine pieces of Indigenous Australian art, but is also home to many historical and contemporary artworks by other Australian artists.

The pioneer, painted by the Australian artist Frederick McCubbin, is considered one of the masterpieces of Australian art. The triptych demonstrates a farmer and his family making a life in the Australian bush. The woman on the left panel is deep in thought, the carriage in the background shows them arrive in an unknown place and to settle on this land. The baby in the woman’s arms can be seen in the central panel, which suggests that some time has passed. Through the trees, we can see a cottage for the family. These all indicate that the couple has settled down and extended their family. The right panel shows a town in the background, and in the foreground a young man standing over a grave, which implies that the couple grew old and eventually died in the place that was once foreign and unknown. Without any experience of interpreting art, a novice like me can easily receive the message from the artist about the storyline of this work. No wonder it has been voted as My Top Ten by online voters.

The most popular painting at NGV is John Brack’s Collins St., 5pm, the iconic image of mid-twentieth century Melbourne. It illustrates office workers walking along busy Collins Street towards the trams and trains after finishing nine-to-five ritualised work. In the background, a line of workers is just a faceless crowd. When you look closely, we see each individual with a grumpy and long face, which also indicates the relationship between employer/employee and employee/employee at the time. You can also notice that there are only a few women in the painting, which shows the sharp imbalance of gender in the workforce back then. I joked that if I were in the picture, I would become such an ice breaker—a woman dressed extremely colourfully and always with sweet smile.

The companion piece to John Brack’s Collins St., 5pm is The Bar, depicting a barmaid working in an Australian pub at the time of the 'six o'clock swill'. In a reflection behind the barmaid, you can see that the patrons urgently drink their fill before the six o’clock closing that was enforced in Melbourne until 1966.

Alongside this pleasure trip of the Australian Collection, there are certainly more artworks that inspire young people, as well as educate the visitors. Four-in-one-bird (moving), Kelly with Horse, The bridge in-curve etc, the list goes on and on. Rai and I had a wonderful time enjoying all those masterpieces and we cannot wait to see the International Collection of NGV in the near future!

12 December 2011

SallyRai and I spent a whole day at The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) exploring the wonder of the Australian Collection. It was magnificent experience!

2011 is the 150 anniversary of the NGV since it was established in 1861 in paen (freshwater) country of the Kulin nation, one of 33 indigenous nations who are the traditional owners of Victoria. Hence, there are various collections to mark this special occasion.

Our tour guide was an elegant lady who had wonderful smile. Since the indigenous art is essential for Australian Art History, we started our journey with About Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert. Aboriginal artists from Western Australia used the term ‘living water’ to describe the water sources, including rock holes and soakage water that are fed by underground springs. Many artworks here were not only paintings, but also maps of water sources at that time, as well as journeys to those waterholes. They all contained secretly hidden meanings that could only be understood by local indigenous people.

We noticed a very interesting similarity – there’s no horizon in these drawings. It seemed like that people painted them from an airplane up in the air. The tour guide’s explanation gave everyone a clear answer – back then, the indigenous people walked through the area searching for a water source for a long time, the map of the area was already imprinted in their mind; so when painting those pictures, they painted them just like drawing the map in their mind. Plus, the unique way of creating the works of art also contributes to this fact – the painters used to put tree bark on their knees and painted as they were half sitting. Following the guide’s lead, we ‘travelled’ from Papunya in the Northern Territory to the Pintupi homelands of Kintore and Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert and enjoy diversified artworks in those areas. Tingarri Dreaming at Wanaritjarra, Pinkalarta, Seven Sisters, Ngayarta Kujarra – every single one presented an interesting story behind the painting.

The highlight of this journey was the collection of 66 historical indigenous shields that reminded us of Australian history: once the plains of south east Australia were home to people who dressed in possum-skin and carried elaborate shields. They lived extraordinary lives with honour and dignity for their achievements. Not only were the shields stunningly beautiful artworks, but also powerful weapons of war, those shields symbolised the first chapter in the history of Australian art.

29 November 2011

SallyMy birthday! Just like Rai’s says; ‘Sally is always 25, just like last year and next year!’

We had a small dinner party at a Lebanese restaurant. Ben and Lei came along, and not only brought the birthday cake, but also the gift and a specially-made Wiggles birthday card from Ben. On the card, Ben replaced the faces of the Wiggles members with our faces and made us dance in all sorts of styles. This card made everyone burst into tears of laughter. Over the dinner, we chatted about our travelling experience at the Grampians and the sore legs (due to long distance hiking and walking) we got afterwards. Ben and Lei talked about their house renovations and preparation, as well as the plan for their unborn baby. Lei even showed me her belly and let me touch it. She joked about the belly and said she felt like she had a watermelon in it. Surrounded by all my loved ones, I made my birthday wishes and hoped they would all come true!

Rai’s birthday gifts were all special, and the most special one were tickets to the musical live show – Rock of Ages. I have never watched an English live music show in Australia and I mentioned this once to Rai and he remembered!
The location of the show was in the Melbourne’s CBD. Upon arrival, we saw the huge billboard with slogans – ‘rock and comedy in perfect proportion’ and ‘28 Rock Anthems’. At the entry of the theatre, I could not resist to take picture with the well-designed poster with my rock and roll hands! When the show and music started, my heart started beating faster. What a musical! Nearly thirty classic rock hits from the 1980s ran through the whole story plot. The narrator’s humorous comments aroused fits of laughter. The light flashed in accordance with the penetrating rock music.

The performers frequently broke the ‘fourth wall’ and directly addressed the audience and seemingly forgot they were actors in the show. During the show, Rai and I smiled or frowned, felt cheerful or sad along with the characters in the musical. We certainly did not realise three hours passing by just like that. The show finished with a happy ending that everybody was wishing for. When the whole cast came to the stage to thank the audience, we all stood up to applaud them. There were a lot of claps from the audience and one thing I noticed afterward was that my palms were red and hurt a little bit due to the applause.

14 November 2011

Sally MountainThe Grampians National Park, also called Gariwerd (Aboriginal name), is well-known for its rocky mountains, magnificent waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art sites, wildflowers and wildlife.

Rai and I started exploring this unique park by visiting Brambuk National Park and the Cultural Centre at Halls Gap. Brambuk is the Aboriginal word for Cockatoo, the totem for this area. The building itself also symbolises the Cockatoo with its wings outstretched in flight. Understanding the seasonal cycles of the Grampians is a good start to understanding Gariwerd and its people. These are six seasons that relate to climactic features as well as referencing environmental events, they include:

  • Hovering bird – early spring 
  • Yam plant – spring 
  • Butterfly – early summer 
  • Eel – late summer 
  • Honeybee – autumn 
  • Cockatoo – winter

We arrived at butterfly season, goodie!

Wandering around the Aboriginal Cultural Centre seemed like travelling through the different periods of Gariwerd people. Multimedia presentations in the Gariwerd Dreaming Theatre displayed the Bunjil Creation Story (Bunjil is the creator and protector of the natural world, his people and their beliefs), as well as Gariwerd a Cultural Landscape, a documentary on the formation of the Grampians National Park. We really liked the sharp contrast of those two videos; the beautiful mysterious story of Aboriginal history and the geographically scientific narration of the Grampians. Aboriginal people don’t record their past in writing; instead they use storytelling to pass on knowledge and history from generation to generation, which has led to a rich culture of rock drawings stories.

Chatauqua Peak was our debut to mountain hiking. Starting from Halls Gap Recreation Oval Carpark, we followed the sign-posted track through open forest, escalating to rocky areas. During the journey, Rai made a walking stick from a fallen tree branch. I made a lot of jokes about this device and here is the best one; ‘Rai, I love your walking stick, it has had so many birthdays, just like you!’

Sally KangaroosThe winding forest track was quite easy, so this one-and-a-half hour hike was sparkled with jokes, laughter and funny comments about each other. From the rocky areas, we started climbing steeply up to the summit of Chatauqua Peak and it was a totally different experience. Concentrating on searching for the best route or steps to reach the top of big rocks became the main focus. Sometimes we stopped and discussed our next manoeuvre. At one stage, we got stuck! It seemed impossible for us to overcome this nearly two-metre-high rock with a smooth surface; there was no where we could put our feet. For Rai, there was slim chance, but for me, it was zero! After several minutes of contemplation and hesitation, Rai was in action! With the effort of two arms and two legs, he crawled his way to the top. Now it was my turn. Rai offered his arm, but I did not take it. I took encouragement from Rai and stepped on top of the rock by myself. When we hugged each other up there, we felt so proud of ourselves. The reward of this journey was the best – a great view of Halls Gap Valley and a huge sense of achievement!

One the way back, we encountered some lovely friends at the Cricket Ground. A mob of wild kangaroos were grazing under the late afternoon sun. While we approached them slowly, the whole group was moving away from us gradually, except one big male kangaroo that stayed where he was. Rai petted him to say hello and he sort of said hello back by bobbling his head. So cute! We noticed there was one that looked bit odd. When she raised her head and stood up, we saw a little tail hanging out from her pouch. Wow, there must have been a little joey hiding in there!

31 October 2011

SallySam, our parrot, is 11 months now and he has grown into a talkative, entertaining character. Every day when we come back, before reaching the front security door, we always can hear his cheerful welcome home chirp.

After we get into the house, he rushes towards the gate of the cage and flips his wings madly as if he is dancing to disco music. The only way to calm him down is to open up the gate and let him hop onto our arms. Then he walks swiftly up to our shoulder and rubs his body against our face and repeats one word – ‘scratch’. This is the first word he mastered and I bet it is also his favorite word in the whole English language. Whenever he says this word, he always gets nice and gentle scratches as a reward.

After the scratch comes the second routine – Drinking Chocolate Competition. While we are making hot chocolates, Sam is doing his own warm up exercise – he paces on our shoulders at an increasing speed and wobbles his head mumbling ‘chocolate’. The first sip of hot chocolate acts as the starting gun for Sam, he starts aiming at the cup and sprints towards it. We swap the cup between both hands to tease him while he persistently chases it by running from one arm to the other arm and never stops! Of course Sam never gets the cuppa, however, as a reward for his persistence and energy, he gets to lick the cup after we finish the hot chocolate.

Recently Rai upgrades the scratch routine to a belly scratch. Here is the procedure: put Sam on the table (smooth surface just in case he wants to hangs onto something), give him some comfort scratches before grabbing him on his back and lay him on his back in our palm. He sometimes gets nervous and crosses his claws or tries to grab our fingers to hang on to, but after several scratches on his head, belly and neck, he starts feeling relaxed, losing the things he holds and closing his eyes, if the scratch is really good, he makes little chirp sounds to show how enjoyable it is!

Sam is also the big fan of weight lifting. I guess he gets this feature from me, a gym goer. Although his weight is only 100g, he can grab half of an apple from the cage floor and drag it to his food bowl at 30cm above the floor. A big chunk of watermelon skin will also be placed in different locations over time. Sam stands on top of the cup after finishing licking the hot chocolate. If there is a spoon in the cup, Sam usually lifts it up with his mouth and holds it up in the air as long as he can to show off his muscles and strength.

When Rai first brought Sam to our home, we promised to make him a happy birdie. Now this happy one brings loads of laughter and sunshine into our life and makes us a merrier couple. Well done Sam!



18 October 2011

SallyOn the weekend we visited Captain Cook’s Cottage – the oldest building in Australia – and St Paul’s Cathedral, the final masterpiece of distinguished English architect William Butterfield.

Captain Cook’s Cottage was built in England in 1755, by James and Grace Cook, parents of the famous explorer Captain James Cook. In 1933, Sir Russell Grimwade learnt that Cook’s Cottage was for sale, so he purchased it with a generous offer and moved the cottage from England to Australia (using 253 cases and 40 barrel crates to pack the numbered bricks) to celebrate Melbourne’s centenary of European settlement in 1934.

There is a thorny Hawthorn hedge surrounding the cottage. The kitchen, the heart of the home, is located on the first floor, with a guest bedroom adjacent to it. The fireplace, chestnut roaster, tapered candles and the butter churner reminded us what the life was like back in 18th century in rural England. Upstairs is the main bedroom with a big mattress filled with straw and duck feathers sitting on a bed frame supported by criss-crossed rope. With time, the rope would sag and become drawn out, so it needed regular tightening. The saying ‘Good night, sleep tight’ allegedly comes from this. The life-size bronze statue standing outside the cottage showed that Captain Cook was a tall man (nearly 191cm), a giant among his mates back in that time.

A very interesting fact we learned was that Captain Cook actually had never lived in this cottage, however, the cottage belonged to his parents, so he’d maybe visit it when he came back from a voyage, so it is kind of related to him and therefore named as Cook’s Cottage.

On the contrary to the small size of Cook’s Cottage, St Paul’s Cathedral is a spacious high-ceilinged building with breath-taking architectural features. With cast glass set into the steel frame, the Processional Doors tell the story of Saint Paul when he is blinded by light on the road to Damascus. We were amazed by the drawings on all the glass, the vivid stories and pictures combined with supreme arts skills. On the right side of those doors is the Persian Tile where we found the Holy name of Jesus Christ in the centre and eight tiles surrounding it.

The Moorhouse Tower Lantern is another glass masterpiece. The work is a circle in a square background. Coloured glass of this composition demonstrates different meanings: clear and blue glass represents heavenly love and truth, red glass symbolises the blood of sacrifice and martyrdom. When we looked up at it, we could see flashes of the lights (indicating divinity) around the Lantern.  To me, it was a fascinating view.

Both of us are Atheist and we never would have thought visiting a church could be such an amazing experience – the design, the drawings, the marble, the wood furniture and the Holy atmosphere. Although Federation Square with all the performances and presentations and crowds is just 20 metres away, in this cathedral, we certainly found the peace and harmony of our mind! 

4 October 2011

SallyRai and I have always wanted to go to the Melbourne Scienceworks Museum, and last weekend we made it! 

The Explore-a-saurus Exhibition was a world of dinosaurs and creatures of the cretaceous period. Palaeontologists reckon dinosaurs probably played hide and seek by using camouflage to match their environment. There was a wall stripped like zebras for visitors to experience the dinosaurs’ camouflage. We pretended that we were dinosaurs putting the covers on and trying to hide ourselves. That felt brilliant!

The Perception Deception session contained interactive exhibits, illusions and perceptual tricks that challenged our ability to interpret information from our senses. Just like the session introduction says, ‘Your brain takes signals from your senses, then adds and subtracts its own information like an editing machine. When you see, hear or feel an illusion, you’ll realise your brain uses a bag of perceptual tricks to create your reality. Even when you know how an illusion works, your brain stays on perceptual autopilot.’

While we were wandering around from one stand to another, I could help thinking that this theory applies to our life too. Sometimes we draw the wrong conclusions base on our subjective observation without knowing it. Sometimes we pre-judge people founded on other’s comments even before we really get to know them. Sometimes we fall in love with a person at the first sight… we reckoned this exhibit actually could help us to reflect on our way of living and thinking, to know our weaknesses and strengths.      

Located on the Yarra River at the back of Scienceworks, the Spotswood Pumping Station served as the heart of Melbourne’s sewage system (1897-1965) and helped to overcome Melbourne’s early sanitation problems. All of the sewage produced in Melbourne’s underground sewers passed through the pumps here on the way to the treatment works at Werribee. In the engine room, one set of engines are still running and we noticed that there were several coins standing on the edge on the moving parts of the engine. Even though the machines are more than 100 years old, the coins stayed upright, which shows how well the machines were built.

The Whispering dishes outside the Pumping Station were our favourite sight. Two dishes were 30 metres apart, so Rai and I were standing in front of each of the dishes and talked to the surface to the dish, amazingly we could hear each other’s whisper although the distance between us was far more than talking distance. I really wished I could bring those two dishes back home and set them on the lawn outside the house. If I could, when Rai and I are doing something outside the house, we could use the dish to talk instead walking from one side of the lawn to the other. That would be pretty cool!

We spent a whole day exploring this museum and we loved it!

19 September 2011

SallyA Chinese delegation visited my school. I was honoured to be the interpreter representing school along with the school principles and other colleagues. The first day on their itinerary was a primary school visit. The four primary schools are the source schools of ours. After students finish grade six, most of them come to our school for secondary education. The Chinese guests were amazed at the huge differences between Australian primary education and Chinese primary education, such as classroom settings, student sitting arrangement and the teaching focus. They also tasted different Australian snacks during the welcome morning tea hosted by one primary school. Vegemite was bit salty, cakes were very sweet and beef pies were their favourite. 

Since Australia has world class wine production, of course a winery would be on the itinerary. Domaine Chandon winery is dedicated to the production of méthode traditional sparkling wine and is just a short drive from Melbourne. At Chandon Greenpoint Brasserie, the Yarra Valley’s leading food and wine destination, we ordered sparkling wine and seasonal food platters. Our Chinese guests were quite fond of the food presentation and commented; ‘Perfect combination of colour, aroma, taste and appearance’.

Through the glass wall of the restaurant, we could enjoy the panoramic vineyard views down the hill. Several of us went outside with a glass of sparkling wine, lying down on the comfortable chairs having a wonderful sun bathe. That was the best way of relaxing!

With more than 200 species of Australian wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary is one of Australia’s most highly praised wildlife sanctuaries. The first unforgettable event we arranged for the Chinese delegation was Magic Moments, a ten minute close encounter with their favourite Aussie animal – a kangaroo. They got to pat the kangaroos on the back while feeding them morning tea (grass), two of the Chinese guests even started talking to the kangaroos when stroking their fur. I guess they tried to teach the kangaroos some Chinese.

Watching the Birds of Prey show was the second fun event on the agenda. First came a white cockatoo sitting on the keeper’s hand, which greeted everyone and then had a very interesting conversation with the keeper, which made us burst into tears. The eagle showed us how smart he was by using the tool (a stone) to break an egg for food. The wedge-tail eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia. With its long, broad wings and fully feathered legs, it scooped far from the sky snapping the treat from the keeper’s hand. When it glided over the top of our heads with its wings fully opened, everyone was standing still; we could feel the breeze created by the wings flapping.

Healesville Sanctuary hosts native Australian animals, so the Chinese delegation experienced close encounters with koalas, wombats, emus, dingoes and platypuses. For the whole day, they were totally engrossed in this interesting and unique journey.

7 September 2011

SallyI first visited the Melbourne Zoo in 2007; during my first year of university. Rai visited it when he was a small child. Now it is time for both of us to revisit it. 

Goodfellow’s Tree- Kangaroos were the first residents saying morning to us. They are macropods adapted for life in trees and at the edge of extinction. The keeper was setting up breakfast for them when she chatted with us about those lovely creatures. The Goodfellow’s Tree- Kangaroos were focused on their delicious first meal of the day and totally ignored our company.

On the way to the water birds presentation, a pelican was wandering around on the footpath and waiting for us. She led us all the way to the lake after Rai kept asking her: ‘Where do you want to take us?’

I guess this pelican had a very positive experience of encounters with humans – when she was found under the Westgate Bridge, the visitors of the Westgate Park had been feeding her for the previous six weeks. Along the lakeside, after flapping her wings several times, she jumped into the water and left us with only ripples in the water. 

The orangutan house was packed! Today’s special was all about the baby girl Dewi, who was born 6 December 2010 and busy munching on solids using her 8 teeth. She was learning to be more independent from her mum as she climbed and explored world! Since orangutans have nine years childhood dependence, Dewi obviously has a long way to go. Orangutans are our closest relative and share 97 per cent of our DNA.

The butterfly house felt like a tropical heaven. As soon as we entered the door, everything became blurry due to the steam on our glasses. Gazillions of colourful butterflies were dancing around us, like rainbow drops falling from the sky. A particular friendly one landed on Rai’s sleeve and flapped its wings to say hello. Her welcome was just like the temperature – nice and warm.

The baby elephant Mali was only one year old and she has a very pretty name. Mali is Thai for Jasmine and represents friendly and cheerful qualities. She absolutely loved to be involved in camera shooting activities. Soon after Rai got the camera ready, she turned her body towards us and began to pose in different positions. Within only two minutes, she had already completed her model show performance. Our favourite pose was her trying to explore a rock with her trunk. So cute!

The tigers’ enclosure gathered a huge crowd. It was lunch time! The keeper hid the meat underneath rocks and up in the branch of a tree. The tigers sniffed out the meat within a very short time. Their noses play an essential role in this hide and seek game. Tigers always win; otherwise, they will starve. The four cubs were siblings, although they were only one and half years old, they looked pretty big and solid.

Blue-yellow Macaws were the biggest parrots and certainly the loudest ones, too. When we passed their cage, we stopped and said hello to one who clung to the cage with big claws. Surprisingly, he said ‘hello’ back, it was a very short answer; but definitely very clear.

On the way back home, Rai and I decided to adopt an animal from the Zoo to support their programs, also to show our love and care for animals. However, choosing which one to adopt is a bit of a problem; all of them are too cute to cross from the list. I guess we will spend time on choosing one of them.

Sally20 August 2011

The Melbourne Open House is an event where many incredible buildings in Melbourne open to the public for free. It is held only once a year and the 2011 event falls on the weekend at the end of August, during those two days, people can unlock the city by exploring 75 great contemporary, historic and sustainable buildings and spaces. Rai and I were lucky to be some of those visitors.

Choosing the places to visit among all those wonderful 75 places was not an easy task. After discussions, we circled the Royal Exhibition Building, the Old Treasury Building and the Shrine of Remembrance.

The Royal Exhibition Building was designed in 1878 for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81. It also hosted the opening of the first Australian Federal Parliament in 1901. As Australia’s first built World Heritage listed site, it was a ‘must see’ place for us. After entering the building, I couldn’t help myself saying “wow”. The Great Hall was huge, actually, bigger than huge; it was vast! Rai has been there before to attend a racing car exhibition and he said the Great Hall without all the stands looked very different. I was extremely fond of all paintings on the dome roof. While standing in the middle of the Great Hall and raising our heads to browse those artworks, a feeling of peace, calm and joy overwhelmed me.

The Shrine of Remembrance was all about keeping memories and showing respect toward those who served and those who died in the Great War of 1914-1918 and armed conflicts and peacekeeping duties since. Passing the entrance, a whole wall of War Medal reinforced the inscription, ‘Greater Love Hath No Man’.  We barely talked, except I occasionally ask Rai questions when we were browsing the photos that record many moments of Australians in the War. The whole place was quite, full of parents with their children, young people and senior citizens. In the Sanctuary, there was special Services of Remembrance featuring the Ray of Light. Every year, at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month, the beam of sunshine shines through an aperture to light up the word ‘Love’ in the inscription. Once again, love is the cure of all the pain for anyone who is affected by war.

Today was a full-on day for Rai and I. We did not stop moving from one spot to another, although our feet complained at the end of the day, our heart was full of good memories and content. We look forward to next year’s Melbourne Open House day!


8 August 2011

SallyThe Tutankhamun exhibition has come to Australia for the first time, Rai and I certainly did not want to miss the opportunity to witness the dazzling array of possessions from the Boy King’s tomb. A thirty metre long queue had formed at the entrance ten minutes before our session started, Among the people waiting were many parents who had brought their children along for this educational exhibition. 

Three-thousand years ago, a legend was born and his name was Tutankhamun. Ten exhibition rooms at the Melbourne Museum provided us the platform to meet the Boy King face-to-face – the ruler and the commander. We were presented with the world of Tutankhamun, where we saw 130 priceless objects that revealed the story of his own and his ancestors’ lives; the glory of his Golden Age. Among the objects were Tutankhamun’s golden canopic coffinette and the crown found on his head when the tomb was discovered, these certainly became the focus of the visitors.  Within the one and half hours session, we did not stop moving and completely indulged ourselves in this glorious world.

I could imagine how difficult it was for Tutankhamun to become King at that time, because he was only nine years old. Sitting on the throne also meant sacrificing a carefree childhood and entering a brutal world in which everyone schemes and plots against one another. Nevertheless, he successfully ruled his territory in his time and also implemented the religious reform at his will.

8 July 2011

Sally_BlogI cannot believe that Rai and I have been married for six months, the wedding day just seems like yesterday. Rai took me to the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant to celebrate this special day for us. This glossy restaurant on wheels is the first travelling Tramcar Restaurant in the world. As a four-time winner of the coveted National Tourism Award, it has become a tourist symbol for Melbourne, plus it is something new for both of us!

Upon arriving at the departure point, the well-designed, burgundy-painted departure stop with shinning glass walls made everyone feel special. The chef and wait staff welcomed the guests at the doorway to the tram. Our seats were located in a cosy, small corner, right next to the tram driver’s cabin. Jo – the head waiter – gave a warm speech to welcome onboard everyone from overseas, interstate and Melbourne. As Jo was giving the speech, I felt the tram start to move.

The tables were decorated with fresh carnations; the floor was covered with burgundy carpet and the seats with plush velvet. A cosy glow was emitted from the beautiful brass fittings and piped music created a unique mood on wheels. Over the delicate cuisine, we travelled along Toorak Road, which is renowned for its stylish and beautiful shops, and saw the famous Paris end of Collins Street. We also passed the tree lined and stately St. Kilda Road, the City’s impressive Arts Centre and the gaping jaws of Luna Park.

Holding the hand of my beloved, enjoying passing scenes through a one-way glass window, tasty food melting in my mouth, piped music massaging our light-hearts… I enjoyed every single moment of this night and I couldn’t ask for more on our six month anniversary!

23 June 2011

Sally blogThousands of people gathered at Federation Square on this special night to celebrate winter solstice, the moment when the days begin to get longer again. Rai and I were lucky to be apart of this event. It was a multicultural celebration which brought dancers and performers from different countries to create a flame dance of global connectedness.

Upon arrival at Federation Square, we followed the crowd to the lantern distribution spot to choose our favourite lantern. Children across Victoria, as well as volunteers from various communities, hand crafted all the beautiful lanterns.

Holding the lanterns and standing in front of the stage really made me feel different, I mean different in good way. The MC announced the feature of tonight’s performance – there would be several stages on the square, and the drum would inform us the location of the next show, so all we needed to do is follow the drum! Wow, mobility of stages – that was something new!

Here came show time, including a Pacific Islander hot rocks dance, Congolese flame dance, a Japanese butoh dancer and Sudanese dancers. Other multicultural groups such as Turkish, Chilean, Mexican, Indian and Iranian groups also presented their gifts of light, enlightenment and hope to Melbournians with their dance and music. 

My favorite part of the night was the lantern waving, more than 1,000 lanterns held in people’s hands were waved in the air with the music, we put our best wishes and blessings into the lantern, and then returned the lantern back to Light Hearts. Light Hearts is a 13 metre high pyramid lighting sculpture – built during The Light in Winter for anyone to contribute to and according to Federation Square Light Hearts is a joyful, communal celebration of the creative spirit of all Melbournians.

When we were standing in the chilly night at Federation Square, among all those warm-hearted anticipants, we knew that was the beginning of the journey towards Spring, hope and renewal.

10 May 2011

20110609_Sally-with-a-penguinThis Sunday, Rai and I had a fun day off at Melbourne Aquarium. Our first destination was the Penguins’ Icy Home, where King Penguins and Gentoo Penguins are housed. King Penguins are the second largest type of penguin, behind the Emperor species; reaching a height of 90cm, with bright yellow-orange necks. They were standing side by side facing the window, looking very dignified, inspecting us.

Gentoo Penguins are totally different from King Penguins, they are much smaller with long, stiff tail feathers. They were waddling through the snow and curious of everything. Those energetic cuties always followed the movement of visitors and tried to have a close encounter with us from the other side of the window. A particularly little one followed me all the way from one side of the window to the other side, trying to ‘read’ my blue brochure. He looked clumsy on the land, but when he jumped into the water, he was flying! Gentoo Penguins are the fastest underwater swimming birds in the world and they even can out run a human being within short distances.

We followed the daily presentation schedule that included: Freshwater Turtle Feed, Talk to the Diver, Let’s Talk Ocean Predators, Tropic Fish Feed and Freshwater Sawfish Feed. 

All those presentations were very instructive and interesting. Rai and I were overwhelmed by the new information. Grey Nurse Sharks fertilise and hatch eggs inside the mother’s uteri, when the baby sharks break free from their eggs, they eat one another until only two embryos remain. One type of shark lays sea-weed like eggs to protect their offspring from other predators. Most sharks have a tough love life and males bite females to show their sexual interest.

We also learnt that King Penguins have an amazing heat exchange system in their nasal passageway that allows them to recapture eighty per cent of their heat, and Green Turtle hatchlings can increase their weight by 8,000 times as they mature!

Of all the presentations, our favourite was Dive Feed. This involved divers feeding sea animals in the water. When two divers appeared in the water, they attracted the attention of the sea animals. The scene was amazing, all fish, turtles and anything in the water formed a big circle around the divers. The divers hand fed them, one by one, to make sure that they all got something to eat. There was a long queue of animals around the feeders’ hands. There seemed to be some naughty animals that were jumping the queue and pushing their way through to get food – especially one Green Sea Turtle, who never left the diver’s hand. At last, the divers told the turtle off by pushing it away.

We noticed that divers actually wore helmets when they were hand feeding, and this seemed quite interesting. The tour guide explained that the helmet is for protecting divers from huge stingrays’ mouths, because they have gigantic mouths and poor eye sight, they frequently bite the helmet by mistake because they think the helmet is lunch! 

30 May 2011

Sally-at-the-zooRai’s birthday fell on 14 May. This was his first birthday since we got married, so well-planned birthday activities were on the agenda. We all knew what was on except Rai, this would be a surprise for him! On the evening of 13 May, I took Rai to a Chinese Restaurant for his dinner party, Ben and Lei brought a birthday cake, gift voucher and well-designed birthday card to Rai.

Bowling is Rai’s favourite entertainment, so after dinner we crossed the road and joined the AFL Bowling club. We had a group group bowling competition between us that went very well. Among the four of us, Rai was the winner!

14 May, Saturday morning, the breeze was fresh at Werribee Wildlife Zoo. We first encountered the African Wild dogs but due to the cold they all squeezed together underneath a shelter and did not bother to say ‘good morning’ to us. Along the walking trail, we saw lions, hippos and cheetahs but the cutest animal in our visit was the meerkat.  According to the keeper, there was one boy in this meerkat group and the other four were girls. Most of the time, the boy was on the outlook duty and looked after his ladies. When they stood up facing the sun, we could see the darker skin and fur on their bellies. This darker colour could help them absorb the sunshine. At one stage, all the meerkats were standing very close to me on the other side of the glass wall and all of a sudden, one fell off like a log, then the rest of them followed him. One after the other, they fell off onto the sand ground and started chasing and playing with each other. So cute!  At 12.30pm, we jumped up on the back of a Ute and started our African Safari Wild Life Tour.  All of the animals were free ranged - antelopes, emus, camels, hippos, giraffes, rhinos ect. Among the zebra family, there was a baby zebra lying down on the ground with his mum. The tour guard told us that he was born here and got well looked after. The rhino encounter experience was unbelievable. Usually, the rhinos are shy and non-sociable with tourists and they would stay away from any vehicle driving in this park.  This time though, there was one female rhino who followed us all for the entire trip and several times she rubbed her horn against the back of the Ute. We could even hear the sound of her rubbing. Nobody understood why she did this but maybe she wanted to get the paint of the car as a souvenir!

After the Safari Tour we went up! The 88-story Eureka Skydeck was really exciting! In less than 40 seconds we arrived at level 88 in the fastest lift in the Southern Hemisphere. After that we saw through the telescope ‘the sights of Melbourne Viewfinders’, it turned out that only 5  of the 30 views of Melbourne we have never been to, so visiting the rest of 5 would be our mission.  The views of Melbourne from the floor-to-ceiling windows were amazing. We were lucky enough to witness these views in the sunshine, at sundown and under the starry sky during one day. The Melbourne city view changed three times a day, just like a beautiful young lady would put a different dress on. Sitting in front of the window, we cuddled, looked out and kissed and we did not want to leave.

Skydeck 88 is the only observation deck in the world that can thrill you with ‘the Edge’. - a glass cube which projects you three metres out of the building and 300 metres up.’ We could feel the cube moving out off the wall, then suddenly, the walls became transparent and a 360 degree view of Melbourne was present. We looked down through our legs and all the cars were running along the CBD like the beetles searching for food. We looked up and we felt all the clouds moved slowly above our heads. Nobody was talking but busy looking around through the window trying to feed their eyes with these unique views as much as possible.  Surviving the edge was our goal for the and we just did it!

Rai told me that he loved my surprises for his birthday.

12 May 2011

4am, 25 May, cold and foggy morning. Rai and I were driving the car on the way to Anzac Day dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance.

Sally and Puffing BillyI was more excited than sleepy because I know how significant this event is for all Australians. ‘Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, and is commemorated by both countries on 25 April every year to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. It now more broadly commemorates all those who died and served in military operations for their countries.’ A CROWD of over 40 000 attended the service. Seeing many parents bringing their children along amazed me: we all know that most people who served in World War I are in their 80s or passed away, but still lots of children and young people  turning up to honor those solders who sacrificed their life for their country. Who said Australian young generation tends to forget their history, who said they are only interested in computer games and parties? Here they were, the future of Australia; they never forget history and always respect as well as pursuit honor for the country!

We planned to celebrate my friend Ben’s birthday on Australian’s favourite steam train - Puffing Billy. Saturday morning, 11am, four of us were seated on top of the iron bar of the famous steam train, leaving both legs hanging out of the window, just like other children around us. The train was running slowly through the scenic Dandenong Ranges with all the steam touching our faces and hands, along the way from Belgrave to Gembrook there were more than 20 views, including the famous Trestle (Timber) Bridge, the view of Port Phillip Bay and the Landside etc. Rai picked up a small branch of green leaves and put it into my hair and said, ‘Here, Sal, this is your environmental- friendly souvenir from Puffing Billy.’ The best thing of this one-day excursion was the jokes and laughter we had on the journey, everyone seemed extremely humorous and comedian-like. I remember once I burst to tears and almost couldn’t breathe because of the jokes. I think this is the good thing about friends—wherever you are, whatever you do, they are always the source of happiness. 

Last but not least was Ben’s birthday cake. Rai spent nearly 5 hours baking and decorating his birthday cake, also this special home-made cake included a fancy hand-made cake box. When Ben and his wife Lei saw the cake box, they were amazed: ‘wow, wow, look at the box, so beautiful!’ Not to mention when the whole cake appeared on the table with colourful drawings and good wishes on top of it. So the conclusion about the cake was—well baked, fancy decorated, rich chocolate taste — best desert ever! Happy Birthday Ben!

28 April 2011

20100418_quakerRai is a big fan of car racing and Sally is a big fan of ‘something new’; as such, we were definitely not going to miss out on the 2011 Melbourne Ground Prix. 

Sunday 27 March, Melbourne’s Albert Park saw a crowd of 111 000 people - more than a Grand Final audience at the MCG and equal to that at the Melbourne Cup at Flemington. V8 Supercar racing officially introduced me to this glorious event—the sound of the cars, the excitement of the crowd, the beer and wine, the ear muffs.

I could feel the trembling of the track when cars passed by. Rai guided me through the race because he knew everything about it. All I needed to do was ask! And listen to the sound - the noise of millions of wasps. Wow! Obviously the ear muffs could only help me to survive! 22 Formula 1 cars chased each other on the track at an extremely fast speed. The audience was captivated. Some of them did not even wear earplugs or ear muffs, they did not care! All they cared about was the racing—whether their favourite one won or not. I might not understand why Rai was so crazy about car racing himself and spent lots of money and time pursing happiness from this. But I know now, he is definitely one of the people who tries to compete against himself and push himself to the edge. I was so glad that I was there, not only witnessing this great event, but also understood Rai better.

14 April 2011, on our 4 month anniversary, my husband Rai brought me a big surprise - a chirpy Quaker. We named this bird Sam. He is only 4 months old and looks very fluffy, with lots of baby feathers near the belly. He likes us to scratch him on the back and belly, and when we do this he is purring like a cat. Sometimes he even can mimic the sound of the seagull and we have to keep telling him off, ‘Sam, you are not a seagull, you are a Quaker. Stop being a seagull’.

Most of the time he is quiet, but when he gets excited, he can be very loud. He enjoys walking around our arms and necks, sometimes he walks on my head giving me massage, occasionally he tastes my hair but I don’t think he likes it. His favourite time is standing near the window and saying hello to the birds or passengers passing by. When we are cooking in the kitchen or doing some other things instead of entertaining him, he always makes a very loud sound as if he complains: ‘Please play with me and don’t leave me alone’. We laugh and agree he is an attention seeker, just like every other baby. My internet search found that Quakers can live up to 25 to 30 years. Wow, that is a long time! Sam, welcome to Sally and Rai’s sweet home. We will make you a happy birdie!

22 March 2011

SallyRecently the 56th Moomba parade was held in Melbourne. Of course Rai and I did not miss it!

One and a half hours before the parade started, Rai and I had already got a good spot along the parade route. The parade started at 11am sharp with Aboriginal performers leading the way. It was fanstastic. It was based on the months of the year, with each month presenting the audience with a different culture event that takes place in the city during this time (e.g. April - Melbourne International Comedy Festival, September – football finals, November – the Melbourne Cup. I quite like the concept of using a calendar theme to display the city’s rich cultural life. 

After the parade finished we followed the crowd to the activity ground. My favourite activity was the rock climbing. Observing others on the wall it looked so easy but when I’m up there, it is much harder than I could handle. Rai and the instructors were giving me hints about which rock I should hold or stand on. After giving absolutely 200 per cent effort, I rang the bell on the top of the rock. ‘Wohooooo!’ That moment I will never forget. A lot of things in our life are just like rock climbing—they look easy at first, then they become difficult when you attempt them, but with some extra effort and support from those around you, you make it.

03 March 2011

1Sally-at-MCG0am, Gate 3, Olympic Stand, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Rai and I stood outside this amazing complex, keenly looking forward to starting our tour.

George, our tour guide, wore a colourful MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) jacket and hat. He started with an introduction about how the MCG had hosted many memorable events such as test cricket matches, Australian Football grand finals and an Olympic Games.

George then took us up to what he thought were the best seats in the house. These ‘AA’ seats were under cover, shielding spectators from either strong sunshine or rain and were only 30 meters distance from the ground, therefore providing a fantastic view of the whole arena.

After admiring the view from the ‘AA’ seats it was off to the Long Room – a very famous room in the member’s stand that features oil paintings all over its walls; it also houses a good collection of cricket balls and bats that were used by some famous players. My husband Rai, who is a big fan of cricket, just stood staring at them completely speechless (probably wishing he could bring one of them home).

Sitting on the couch in the Long Room certainly made us feel like VIPs because usually only members with 50 years membership under their belt, or important guests, can sit here.

Just when I was imaging that I was sitting next to a visiting head of state, sharing witty banter as we watched the first day of the Boxing Day test match, I got a tap on the shoulder. Time to move on.

Next stop was the National Sports Museum (NSM), which is located in the Olympic Stand. The NSM features many world-class exhibitions of significant sporting artefacts.

The museum houses the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, the Australian Football exhibition (including Australian Football Hall of Fame), and the Thoroughbred Racing Gallery.

Besides the many important displays there are many great interactive activities to have fun with. Our favourite was the ‘Game On’ gallery where both of us tried kicking, catching and throwing a football, shooting a netball, and firing an arrow. We really had a ball and did not want to leave.

I’ll sign-off this week with a great quote that I read at the NSM: ‘A sporting moment happens once. Never to be repeated. A split second in time, captured forever. They live in the minds of the people: who competed, who were there, and who pass their stories from generation to generation. They shape our collective view of ourselves, and our country. They become the blueprint for what we value and an inspiration for all.’

17 February 2011

20110216_SallyThe last two weeks has been a busy and happy time for me and my husband Rai!

On Australian Day we went to our friends Jeff and Fran’s wedding – the first Australian wedding I have been to. Fran looked beautiful in her dress and everything about the day – the church, the dinner and the cake – was fabulous. Lots of people gave great speeches about Jeff and Fran’s love story and then it was onto the dance floor. I danced a lot and wow, my feet hurt the next day!

At the beginning of February we celebrated Chinese New year by holding a dumpling party at our place. One of the guests happened to be a chef, so with her supervision and my ‘super’ organising skills, the dumpling making process was quickened up a fair bit.

Within one-and-a-half hours four types of dumplings (boiled and fried) and four types of dipping sauce were sitting on the table ready to go. Mixed with a lot of jokes and laughter, they were all gone very quickly. I could not ask for more – Chinese New year with beloved family and friends sitting around the dinner table, sharing our happiness and plans!

A few days later we went to China Town for the Chinese New Year celebration held by the City of Melbourne. Touching the dragon and the lions was our mission because it meant good luck for the Year of the Rabbit. It was first Rai’s first experience of Chinese New Year celebrations so everything was really interesting to him. After having a good look around we followed the dragon all the way to the Chinese Museum and patted it on the head! Rai loved the lion dance – he reckoned it was almost like a delicate art.

On our two month anniversary I planned a surprise for Rai. He often sits on the couch watching all the birds parading and eating on the front lawn. He says he loves it and he could do it forever. So I took him to Grants Picnic Ground in the Dandenong Ranges National Park to feed native birds. When we arrived heaps of parrots and cockatoos were already gathered and ready for a feast.

With two handfuls of sunflower seeds we obviously attracted the birds’ attention. First came the parrots. They landed on our arms, hands, shoulders and heads in order to try and get to the food. It was a real  struggle just to get one hand free to take a picture of each other. Then came the cockatoos. They were heavy, especially when you had three of them standing on your arms trying to battle their way to the food. Half of the sunflower seed bag was empty and they were still coming! Rai was smiling all the time. Despite having our heads and arms massaged by birds' feet, we will come back regularly to do it all again.

04 February 2011

20110203_Sallys-trip12.50pm, Sorrento Pier, Esplanade Road, Sorrento. The view of the sea was wonderful when we were lining up in front of the cruise boat. I was so excited about  our swim with dolphins!

As we boarded the boat, everyone was busy putting on their wetsuits and snorkelling equipment; we were briefed about do’s and don’ts. The fresh smell of the sea made me want to jump in search for dolphins. Twenty minutes later, the boat slowed down as it was approaching a seals’ place. More than 30 seals were there enjoying the sun. Most of them were sleeping or napping, so they were too relaxed to raise their heads to find out what’s going on on the boat. Only a few seals slightly moved to wave at us. Now was the time to be closer to those fat creatures. Fully armed with snorkelling gears, everyone jumped into the water; it was a bit chilly, but enjoyable. When people tried to swim closer to the seals, one or two of them started the ‘diving show’. They looked at us first, held the ‘diving’ gesture for 30 seconds, and then quickly disappeared from our vision, only left a trace of water on the surface of the sea. They seemed never tired of doing this show, so all of us just stayed in the water or on the boat watching them.

About one hour later, the cruise started the engine again continuing the search for dolphins. Rai and I felt a little bit cold because we stayed in the water for quite a while, so we wrapped the shower towels on top of our wetsuits, half lying down on the deck, letting the sunshine warm us up. Seagulls were chasing the waves created by the boat engine. When the boat passed by some houses and buildings along the coast, a girl who worked on the boat told us that the Sorrento area was the first settlement of Victoria and all the officials at that time actually worked in those buildings.

People started talking about the possibilities of seeing dolphins today. Dolphins are very smart and free creatures, but also very very moody. If they want to be seen, they will definitely show up, if they prefer privacy, nobody can actually find them. Everybody was praying for our good luck. The announcement came, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have been searching for dolphins for the last hour, we have tried all the possible areas where they are usually seen in; unfortunately, they are not to be seen anywhere. We will keep looking for them on the way back to the pier; however, our chances will be very slim.’

Both Rai and I were a bit upset about naughty dolphins’ hiding game. However, we cheered ourselves up very quickly. It was a day off, no cooking, no working, no washing dishes and no house chores. We immerged ourselves in the nature, in the water, watching seals, sea horses and other sea creatures. Wasn’t it a wonderful day? Although we have not swum with dolphins yet, maybe it is a good reason for us to come back soon! Hey, dolphins, we are coming back!

First day of this school year was another wonderful day. I received a lot of congratulations for my wedding, colleagues started calling me ‘Mrs’, hugs from some teachers I worked with, greetings from everyone! There were several congratulations and Christmas cards in my pigeon hole which I forgot to collect last year before school finished. It was nice to see their good wishes on those cards. The biggest surprise was my ‘reward’ from the school staff association; I was ranked as ‘Ms Happy’ at school and received a big smiley face as a trophy. Thanks for all my colleagues who supported me. I thought it was because of them I received this title, because they made me feel happy most of the time at school instead of being ‘Ms Grumpy’. I was happy that I could cheer them up just by saying 'hello' and smile or chat to them to them on the way to the office. I enjoyed working here from the start; but now my feelings are even stronger.

21 January 2011

I never thought that my romantic love history will be typical, and this time my true love came! Rai, an Australian nice fellow, car engineer, racing car driver, good friend, patient driving instructor, and excellent chef came to my life in April 2010. Our first meeting was at the local coffee shop near my place. He drove a blue ute, dressed casually and looked very shy. ‘You are very bubbly!’, was the first comment I got from him. I was laughing and smiling during our chat; he kept saying ‘let’s change topic’ indicating his nervousness.  I thought he was very different from all my male friends and maybe that was why I found him interesting.

After he found out that I was keen to learn how to drive, three times a week he would drive at least 40 minutes from the other side of the city to pick me up to practice driving in his ute. He never complained about the traffic or the trouble he went through. We had been to all parts of Melbourne to meet my curiosity of driving on all sorts of road conditions. He trusted me 100 per cent with driving his vehicle. Without him, I would never be a confident driver like I am now!
He certainly added a lot of flavour and good taste to my Australian life! Starting from Orange Dutch

Day, we really enjoyed exploring Melbourne and surrounding areas—South Bank, Melbourne CBD, Sundown Car racing track, Mt Dandenong, Kinglake, Sovereign Hill, Ten-Pin Bowling club, Australian Reconciliation Night, Melbourne Show, Melbourne Cup. With him, I felt safe, comfortable and cheerful, and I laughed enormously like a teenager; I found the time went fast without knowing when I was with him. He was also very interested in Chinese culture: he enjoyed the Chinese food I cooked, he was very keen to learn Mandarin and he was very happy to meet my Chinese friends. 

When he popped the question with a ring made of a curtain hook with one kneel down after midnight (obviously both of us did not realise that things moved so fast, so neither him nor me prepared for this with a real engagement ring), I hugged him and said yes.  We stayed up all night talking about our future. Both of us decided to book the date for our marriage registration first thing the next morning. I thought this was a very romantic proposal although the curtain hook ring did not really suit my finger; this original ring is still in my drawer, with my real engagement and wedding rings. I always implied in our conversations that he was not very romantic and I was wrong.

After we got married in December 2010, he flew back with me to Beijing to meet my family, relatives and friends. They all like him very much; to them, he was just like a big cute teddy bear who can speak a little of bit Mandarin and who was very friendly. And he told me: ‘I now have family in Beijing, so quick, just like that!’

I always thought that my Mr. Right has to pass all sorts of tests and exams that I set up to cross the bridge to marry me, but I never expected he would come to my side so quick, just like a flash! However, I believe life is full of surprises. He is my biggest and best surprise forever!

For our one month wedding anniversary, he gave me a plain looking envelope. When I opened it, there were two tickets to ‘swim with dolphins’. He knew what I wanted! We were talking about snorkelling and seeing the white whale and dolphins for a while, then he made this come true.

I always plan things in my life journey, but love and marriage, you can never plan! When it comes, it comes. When it is hiding, you just have to wait patiently! Believe it or not, I think I am the happiest woman on this planet because I know now no matter what happens, my husband will always be with me!

Cheers to marriage!

24 November 2010

20101118_Sally-at-badmintonBadminton is one of my favourite sports because it challenges my muscular endurance and always pushes me to the edge of my limit. After one or two hours of running on the badminton court, with sore muscles and a relaxed mind, all I want to do is have a warm shower and go to sleep in my comfortable bed.

Recently a friend introduced me to a badminton club. The club is a good mixture of players from different cultural backgrounds. They play doubles more than singles, which is not my field because I used to play singles a lot when I was at China. But it’s good to try something different! Doubles is more about working in a team, making decisions promptly otherwise you will affect your partner’s action, and paying attention to all the other players. After two games I realised that playing doubles is not easy at all - a lot of thinking and quick decision making. Good exercise for the brain and body. After two hours, I sat down on the floor with my badminton mates to chat about the skills that we could improve on, gossip from the work place and plans for the weekend. Badminton is a good way for social interacting and fitness building.

Since I started driving in Australia, my friends have been telling that I should be prepared for when the car breaks down and join Road Assistance Insurance. And here came the ‘special day’. Friday afternoon, heavy rain, on the way to Pines Shopping Centre, just 500 meters to destination, 100 meters to the red lights ahead, the car suddenly slows down and stops completely in one minute. Luckily there weren’t any cars behind us; otherwise, the head-to-tail kiss would have been unavoidable! I quickly pressed the hazard light button and pulled closer to the curb. It was wet, windy and cold outside the car; cars were driving past and splashing us. After trying to start the ignition many times, we both thought it was time to call RACV Road Assistance Service. Thank God, I am a member of this insurance; otherwise, that would have been a miserable and very expensive day!

While we were standing by the car deciding what to do, a car slowed down and pulled in front of us. A girl jumped out of the car first, then a tall young fellow. The girl walked closer to our car and asked us if everything was alright. I told them that the car was completely dead and it would not start again. But she said: ‘Do no worry, we have a jump start machine and we helped people like you before, it takes only five minutes.’ They got everything ready and tried to give the car the jump start, but the car didn't respond. After ten times of trying to start the car, this lovely couple jumped back in their car and wished us good luck.

I rang RACV roadside assistance help line and they said that if the car was on the main road stopping the traffic they would just tow the car away to our nominated destination. So we tried to push the car away from the main road to a nature strip, but it was too heavy for the two of us. A gentleman slowly parked his car behind us and offered to help, and wow, one more person really made a difference. My car struggled all the way to the nature strip and stood still waiting for the RACV people. When I was sitting in the car, I felt relieved and happy instead of being upset by the car breaking down. I have never expected so many people trying to help me in a situation like that. Thanks to all those lovely strangers who trying to help me out. They made my first time car break down experience more cheerful and memorable. 

11 November 2010

20101109_Sally-at-the-racesOne hundred and ten thousand people gathered at the Flemington Horse Racing Track on Melbourne Cup day to watch and bet on their favorite horses. I was one of them and I was really excited during the race, from when the horses started racing all the way to the finishing line.

2010 Melbourne Cup is the 150th time this incredible event has run; it has the reputation of ‘the world’s most famous and best-regarded thoroughbred races’. It is ‘the race that stops a nation’, which most Australians stop to watch, listen to or bet on. This unique event occurs at 3pm on the first Tuesday of November each year.

Since arriving in Australia in 2007, I never had the opportunity to attend this well-known event because the University doesn’t mark this day as public holiday. Being a student at the time, I couldn’t get time off at the time of the race. But this year I am free. So I said to myself I was definitely going. Actually I have been planning this for quite a long time; also my colleagues and friends gave me all sorts of tips before the day:

  • always take public transport, especially the train to go there, never drive, too much traffic and the parking fee is too expensive; plus if you drink a little bit, then it is not safe to drive your own vehicle.
  • get your fascinator (or hat) as early as you can
  • make sure your hat matches your dress
  • wear high heels like other girls do, but always have a spare pair of flat shoes in your handbag, at the end of the day, you will find them very handy and comfortable for your feet
  • bring considerable amount of cash as food and drinks can be double or triple the normal price and the credit card is extremely inconvenient
  • make sure you place your bet one or two days in advance instead of on that day, unless you want to spend several hours shuffling all the way to the betting queue and then shuffling all the way back to the grandstand to watch the race
  • unless you are an expert on horse racing, do not spend too much time and too much money on it
  • choose your horses in your own way, such as by colours, names, numbers or the names of the riders.

Wow, I really learned some useful hints in my school staff room.

So, based on their tips, I carried out my plan. On Monday evening before Melbourne Cup, we walked into our local TAB, spent one hour choosing my favourite horses in ten different races on Melbourne Cup day. I just chose them by their names and numbers without knowing any background of the horse and their performance. This is the ‘once-a-year bet’, so purely based on luck.

Zone 1 and Zone 2 one day ticket can be very popular on days like this and it had sold out at the newspaper agent at Westfield Shopping Town. We had to drive somewhere else to find it.

Tuesday morning, 8am, well dressed and refreshed, we drove to a railway station nearby and took the train to our destination. Around 9am, we arrived at the Flemington Horse Racing Centre. People had already started queuing up to get in. Standing among them and looking around is really a feast for my eyes. All gentlemen are in shirts, ties and suits with shining shoes; some of them have yellow roses pinned in their lapel (the theme of this year’s Melbourne Cup). Every single lady is making her strongest fashion statement with an exotic or outrageous outfit—hats are essential and so is the fancy dress. My eyes have never been so attracted by women’s dresses - every one of them is different; however, they are similar in being stunningly beautiful and looking confident in their dress! Waiting in the queue was a very enjoyable time.

The Grandstand was piled with audience, picnic blankets, beach chairs, food and drinks on the blankets. Obviously they are experienced and well prepared for this event. The first race starts at 10.20am; everyone stops chatting, greeting and drinking, instead they are all staring at the big screen or the race track wondering how the horse they picked performed, which one is the winner. The whole race only lasts for about one and a half minutes, but enthusiasm of Melburnians is great. There is a 45 minutes gap between each race, so we walk around trying to get to know more about Flemington. ‘Mounting Yard’ is the place to see all the horses and riders before the race. The horses are introduced to the audience by an MC and they pace around the yard to show their beauty. It is from here that riders take their horses to the race track. I noticed that most of the riders are thin and short; maybe it is essential to be light enough to allow the fastest speed.

During the fifth race, it starts pouring with rain. The umbrella keeps our heads and hair dry, but for everything else - it is useless. We have ponchos in our handbags and we try to put them on at an unbelievable speed. With ponchos and umbrella, we are dry compared to others who have nothing to protect them from the rain. There were five well-dressed gentlemen next to us, standing still in the rain without any protection from it. I can still see the smiles on their faces, maybe they were just making fun of each other and how wet they were, maybe they thought it is the part of the Melbourne Cup fun to get wet in the rain. The shower was quite heavy and quick; within fifteen minutes, it was long gone and had left many small water pools on the ground.

The Melbourne Cup race is the seventh out of the ten races. At 2.50pm, 10 minutes before the race, it rains again! With all the umbrellas up, we barely can see the race track, not to mention the horses racing. Even the big screen disappears in the sea of umbrellas. At that point I was a little bit disappointed because I knew I would not able to see the race there and would have to re-watch it at home. But suddenly, someone screamed loud: ‘Umbrellas down!!!’ What a wonderful suggestion! Then more and more people made the same statement: ‘all umbrellas down!’ I certainly agreed and joined this idea. It worked, people started to close their umbrellas and the big screen came back into vision. The weather seems to have heard it too and the rain becomes less intense. Just one minute before 3pm, the rain stops completely. What a good timing! All umbrellas and ponchos gone and we can now see the Flemington Horse Racing Track under the clear sky. Good luck for all of us! My friend picked five horses! Three of them are the first three winners. How odd! But lucky!

28 October 2010

20101028_Sally-and-Baby-LambThere are some things you can only do once a year and it makes them extremely special and meaningful. Living in Melbourne, we are blessed to have many of these opportunities; one of them—the Royal Melbourne Show.

‘Thrill Seekers Carnival’ was our first stop. My recommendation is to always get yourself in the rides without any food or drinks in your stomach. By following this ‘Golden Rule’, there will be no upset stomach, ache or any other serious consequence. We start at the scary level 8 out of 10 ride - juggernaut. I think that it basically makes all passengers experience the feeling of an airplane crash in five full minutes. Also it is a good training program for ‘how to scream as loud as you can’. By the time we finally got back to the ground, my friend got a butterfly in his stomach as a souvenir. But I was feeling very excited and in good spirits. So after the brief discussion, both of us agreed to do some quiet and peaceful activities – such as the showbag. This year there were more than 300 show bags on offer which made it a fun and challenging task to pick our favourite ones. With various attractions and discount offers, the decision making process becomes very interesting. Half an hour later, the Cadbury Super Trial Bag won our attention.

My friend chose to stay on the ground safely to video-tape me while I am up 60 meters high in the air - it feels like a one-hour journey viewing the Melbourne outline from different angles at extremely high speed, although it is actually only five minutes. My conclusion on the free-style ride is that it is an opportunity for everyone to feel their arms, legs, neck or whatever other part of their body, moving in free-style when they are actually tied up with a safety belt on a seat; and it is absolutely the best way to try to overcome gravity! When I watched the video tape afterwards, I could still feel the scary part of it (scary in a good way I mean).

Baby animals are the cutest creatures on the planet, especially the ones present at the Melbourne Show Animal Nursery House. After we enter into the venue, we are immediately approached by five lambs hopping around; maybe they were looking for food, maybe for a companion or just some fun, but they absolutely cheered us up. A lot of parents bring their children here to learn more about farm animals by feeding them and petting them. I got a chance to hold a baby lamb in my arms, such a tiny, warm creature. At first, he struggled to get away from me a little bit. Then after continuous gentle stroking on the head and back, he calmed down and got kind of sleepy.

There are many things to see and try at Melbourne Show; you feel that you can suddenly go back to your childhood and be without a worry in the world. Fairy floss is delicious and sticky and two people sharing one makes the eating more enjoyable. The dog pavilion gives us a spectacular view of how well-trained and smart animals can be. Playing games trying to get all sorts of fluffy toys at the Sideshow Alley turn out to be the last highlight of this wonderful day. A blue and white Unicorn was my big reward and souvenir of Melbourne Show.

Thanks Melbourne for being such a dynamic, multicultural and activity-rich place! 

7 October 2010

Every single Australian family has a bottle of Vegemite, the size of the bottle is varies, but the content inside the bottle is always the same - vegemite.

Sally-Master-of-Vegemite-ToastLet’s start with the definition: “Vegemite, a vegetable extract used as a spread, flavouring”. An Australian friend who traveled to USA complained that there was no Vegemite in America, “USA sucks, they don’t have vegemite” this is the conclusion he draws after 3 months “non-vegemite” life there…to be honest, my first experience of Vegemite was awful and I had to brush my teeth to get rid of the strange taste. Now, I just love it! After toasting the whole piece of wheat bread, smearing a thin layer of butter, then vegemite, it tastes beautiful! It is a quick, nutritious and warm snack. I learned how to make it from a friend and practice almost everyday. Then one day I got comment, “you are vegemite toast master now, so no need to learn from me anymore…”

110 hours - that is the time I spent on improving my driving skills. I can not believe that I have been driving to so many ReachingfortheSkyHighplaces…the curvy and undulating roads of the Dandenong Mountains and Kinglake are absolutely my favourite venues to go driving. The beautiful view of outlook of those places makes driving more enjoyable. Driving to Box Hill for eating out and shopping, Westfield shopping for movie and fun, Chadston shopping centre for bowling and chocolate, Preston market for grocery shopping, Phillip Island for enjoying car racing competition, Port Melbourne for walking along the beach under starry sky…my lovely driving instructor was very thoughtful, sometimes he would come up with the driving plan to the suburbs and places I have never driven to and that is why the neighbors will see Sally driving from one suburb to another just for fun instead of running errands, that is why the people in the CBD will see our Ute wondering from one street to another just want to finish all the grids of the city map. Thank you very much my dear friend for bringing Sally to a world with driving a car; I am sure that she loves it!

I got “Monica” today! She is a beautiful white sedan, Toyota Camry, reliable and tough “lady”. She is my first car in Australia, not brand new, but absolutely beautiful. She needs some special attention before I really can drive her on the road, so now she is staying with my friend’s factory waiting for become more “prettier”. Time for Sally’s action plan — the Hazard Perception Test is tomorrow and the Road Test is one month later…oh my god, everything is happening so fast, I am going to drive my own car…exciting! 

7 September 2010

This weekend is fantastic!

Welcome-to-Education-ShowTwo days at the Education Show offered a range of professional development activities including 60 seminars on key education issues and access to over 120 exhibitors with products, services and resources to support teaching and learning. I can not wait…first day is full on with 6 seminars from 10:15am to 3:15pm. The seminar topics vary from literacy to classroom management. At the end of the day, I am overwhelmed by all sorts of information and resources. Wow, there is a world language that can be learned by everyone as second language and it is not that difficult to learn at all. I would love to learn it if I get the opportunity. The presenter from World Vision shows us the vivid picture of how children and mums who are struggling to survive in Africa get assistance from the organisation and improved their life tremendously. Like the saying goes, “education change life”. I believe every single one attending the seminar has the same thoughts.

My favorite seminar is “Internationalising Education: An emergent imperative for our schools”. It is presented by a guest speaker from Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. He focuses on the secondary language learning at school and emphasises that “Asian languages need extra attention”. Obviously, monolinguals face losing the advantage of proficiency in English because high English skills are becoming basic skills. I can not agree anymore. Most of Australian students in my school choose Italian as their second language because it is comparatively easier than other Asian languages, such Chinese, Japanese and Korean. However, it is China and some other Asian countries that have close relationship with Australia in terms of commerce, politics, culture and tourism. Learning Asian languages at this stage will definitely assist those students in the future when they start their own career.

Sally-loves-UrchinOver 120 stands on the ground floor, I spent 2 and half hours exploring them, definitely worthwhile. There are two Chinese companies selling education software. After briefly chatting with them, it turns out that one company is from Beijing--the place I come from. What a chance! With cheery tones, I chat with the representative in Mandarin, good to have people come all the way from home to promote their products. One stand attracts my attention when I am 15 meters away; it is the sea creature world. Lot of sea animal specimens are hanging on the net around the wall. More than 20 types of sea creatures are resting in a big fish jar. According to the people there, they usually run many immersion programs in all sorts of schools by bringing in all those creatures to satisfy children’s curiosity as well as trigger their interest of science and sea world. Guess I must look very curious, because I get offered to choose one in the big jar and hold it. Wow, which one I should choose? Hard to decide, hard to decide… At last, the lackadaisical-looking urchin wins my attention and rests on my warm palm. It seems be aware of the changing and start to crawl slowly trying to escape and get back to water. I feel itch all my hand…I notice it moved very slowly, like a snail…okeydoke, I won’t hold you any more, off you go back to the jar!

Last time I went bowling was three year ago at Beijing. Now I am standing in the ten pin bowling court, watching a group of children playing in their “own” way with all sorts of facial expressions. We booked two games; first one will be the “warm-up” game, because both of us have not played this for a while. First step is choosing the bowling ball—essential part of the game; have to make sure that our hands are very comfortable with the weight of the ball. I decided to go with yellow one, my friend chose blue ball. He starts the game and throws the ball on the track, opps, just misses all the pins. I am laughing, “Good start, at least the ball is on our track instead of others’” my first try is ok, 7 points. It seems that my competitor is a very quick learner; he gets 10 points at second and third try. Both of us are observing other players, such as the way they throw the balls and the way they aiming the targets. Analysing after each throwing becomes the interesting topic in our competition, this makes the game more fun. Instead of trying to beat each other, we try to give each other hints of how to improve the performance. Obviously, encouraging each other is the essential part of this “competitive” game and scores are not that important anymore. I have had a ball in my first time bowling at Melbourne; look forward to the next time.

When I was a full time student at La Trobe, I worked closed with City of Darebin Council by being involved in many consultation groups and meetings. I still remember very clear about those days—lots of recommendations and discussion. Today, I am back again to one of those meetings, not as a student, but as a person who lives in Melbourne and cares about the future development of this city. Wednesday night, 7:30pm, Darebin City Council Chambers, the forum “Future Population in Melbourne’s” attracts citizens from different country background.  Paul James, the director of Global Cities Institute of RMIT presents loads of insights of “factors that influence population increase” and “the challenges of providing secure and sustainable places to live”, wow, mind blowing presentation…at the end of the speech; I have already come up with at least 5 questions to ask him. The other two guest speakers are the head of Darebin city council and Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Council. Unlike Dr James discussing the topic from global perspective, both of them talk about population issue from local government point of view. The demonstration shows us the vivid picture of the growth of the population and the corresponded facility and amenity development in those two cities, as well as the strategic plan of city council in the next 50 years. Now Q & A time. Look at that, more than half audience raise up hands. Sitting there and listening to those questions, answer and comments, I can not help thinking this: we all care about this city, this county and this planet, we all, have been, are and will make great efforts to maintain the good environment and life we have now…

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23 August 2010

8am, Saturday morning, highway to Sovereign Hill, Ballarat; I am driving at various speeds from 80km to 110km according to the signs.

Sally-goldmineThe weather is very ‘cooperative’ in terms of practising my driving skills - it is pouring. With the wipers flying on the window, I really have to make great efforts to recognise the white line between the lanes and the signs; plus it is a winding road with some sharp curves, wooo…I love it. Right time for me to practise driving under extreme circumstances, start with tough and end with easy. I also made today’s driving journey more challenging by changing the lane very frequently. According to my friend’s comments, they were ‘consistent and smooth lane changes’ and also they made others on the road wonder about the driver’s ‘level of craziness’. By the time we got to Sovereign Hill, I have already become very confident and smooth at changing lanes.

Ballarat, formerly spelled ‘Ballaarat’, means ‘resting place’ in aboriginal culture. It is one of the most significant Victorian era boomtowns in Australia. Gold was discovered near Ballarat in 1851 spawning the Victorian gold rush. Sovereign Hill, the open-air museum in Ballarat, also the site of one of Ballarat's major gold diggings, will show me Ballarat's first ten years after the discovery of gold there. The Main Street has many shops—blacksmith, printer, post office, sweet shop, tin smith, gold smelting works, etc. People in those shops all dress up in period costumes and do exactly what people used to do in their daily life - they make things, sell them and earn a living. At the bowling saloon, I feel like a female gold miner, after a whole day digging, wet and smelly, elbowing other guys to get the ball, then use both hands to hold the bowling ball which is about 4 kg and made of solid stone without any holes on it. Hold, aim and throw, the ball hit the targets and I won a cup of beer…. It looks like we are suddenly back 150 years ago.

Sally-peacockFinding gold and becoming rich was everyone’s dream! Today, along the gold panning place, my dream comes true! I get a full pan of sands and small stones from the water, which is extremely cold. Because the gold is very heavy, after shaking the pan, it always goes down to the bottom. Thus, shaking the pan is essential in this mission. After five rounds of shaking, I use my hand to get rid of one layer of stones and sands, then the other five rounds of shakes. After ten minutes, only a handful of fine sand was left at the bottom. Now it is the crucial time, instead of using my hand, I decide to use water to get the sand of the top out; gradually I see a tiny small shining bit smiling at me, ‘gold…gold…’ I just cannot hold my excitement, ‘look, look, I found gold, first time in my life and I will be rich….’

Carefully, I put this tiny shining thing in a special bottle full of water, with a black label as the background colour which makes it look bigger and nicer. After a thorough search, altogether I found five pieces; looking at them shining in the bottle makes me feel really good! Now I can imagine how excited the miners would have been at that time and what made them work extremely hard in the mud and down the mine day and night.

With my five pieces of ‘gold’, we are walking along the dark underground tunnel. There is a voice coming from nowhere, a little bit spooky. We are in Red Hill Mine, the place where Welcome Nugget, the largest gold nugget in the world at that time, was found by a Cornish miner in 1858. It is still the second largest one around the world and the biggest one, Welcome Stranger, was found in Victoria. Compared to this huge gigantic gold fellow (69 kg and contained 99 per cent pure gold), my gold pieces are nothing…wondering how lucky this Cornish was!

I was sitting beside my friend at the National School. I used quill and ink to teach my friend how to write our names in Mandarin; it is hard for him since he has never written in square characters before, but he manages it very well by copying my handwriting in incorrect order. Happy coincidence, the teacher at the school happened to have studied Chinese for two years when she was young, so for her, my friend’s handwriting is perfect considering it is his first try. Thus, both of us got an excellent comment from this lovely lady.

A residential house is one minute away from the school; in the front yard, a peacock is enjoying the sunshine. Of course I will say hello to this amazingly beautiful creature. You will not believe it, but my scarf matches exactly the color of the peacock's tail feathers. And we both have very colorful ‘plumage’. He looks at me for a little while, then slowly walks away; my friend laughs, ‘Sally, your top has more colour than his, maybe he felt a little bit upset and ran away.’

It’s show time - ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ is the story of Eureka Rebellion, a dramatic battle between gold miners and Government forces at Ballarat on 3 December, 1854. The introduction part is held in the theatre for about twenty minutes, and then we are guided to the outside scene set. Chilly and dark, in front of the mining tents and mining machinery, no actors – just voices and dazzling sound-and-light effects. We all follow the voice and the plot, the story is vivid in our minds. Twenty minutes later, we are sitting in the comfortable train, going towards the Eureka Diggings. ‘Experience the miners’ disgust at unfair gold taxes and witness the dramatic burning of the Eureka Hotel. Then, listen to Governor Hotham’s reasoning for a dawn attack on a band of men who were the first to swear an oath of loyalty on Australian soil to a flag that was not British – the flag of the Southern Cross.’ The brochure is absolutely right, the show is an explosive multi-million dollar sound and light show like nothing I’ve ever seen before! Eureka Stockade is regarded as the birth of democracy in Australia and that is why, thousands of people come along, with their friends, their children and family to see this place, to watch this show, to pay respect to the people who fought for democracy at the price of their life.

28 July 2010


The gas brigades in South Melbourne

It seems like the first at my job just happened yesterday, now it is already the third term, half year gone. I believe that a nice time goes faster than you can imagine. Monday morning’s staff briefing is always nice, especially the first day of the new term. It’s nice to see some colleagues coming back with a relaxed and refreshing smile; talking about their school holiday makes their smiles even brighter. The school principle made some jokes and won our laughter.

The International Student Program held orientation for all newly arrived international students, most of them coming from China. Everything at school was new to them. Everyone got a package that included many brochures and comprehensive information on how to travel, live and be safe in Melbourne.

My new mission was taking three international students to do the enrolment at a language school nearby. Since they were new in Melbourne and did not know how to use public transport and how to get to the language school from their homestay, it is better for us to show them the way around before they start studying. Purchasing the ticket in a milk bar, explaining the difference between Zone 1 and Zone 2, showing them how to validate the ticket on the bus and talking about the general knowledge of living in Melbourne on the bus…they had millions of millions questions and they took turns to ask me. It really reminded me of my first week after arriving in Melbourne; at that time I was curious, excited and a little bit nervous. They were the same, no difference, only they were much younger than I was and they were much braver by leaving their mum and dad coming to Melbourne on their own.

Everything was smooth, the international student coordinator addressed us with a very friendly smile, and then she took us to the library. She took the students to the other side of the room to do the test and we were helping them to fill in the enrolment form. By the time we said goodbye to the coordinator, the three students were still doing their pre-school assessment. Good luck, hope you will all like this city, the language school and the cultural society here, and see you soon!

The South Bank Gas brigades flames have the biggest fireballs around the world; I would never ever miss witnessing this world record. 6.45pm, here we are, in front of Crown Complexity, close to one of the eight poles along Yarra River. 3 minutes to 7pm, there was a loud sharp sound accompanying the big fireballs rushing towards the cold air, brightening everything around. Many people were standing still, looking up at the performance. We could feel the heat every time the fireball was out, such a warm spot in the middle of winter. I could not remember how many times the fireballs were out, although I tried to count, at last I just got lost in the amazing view of the performance. When it finished, I dragged my friend to the bridge on the Yarra River where we could see all of the eight gas polls. The winter wind was strong and it played with us, trying to take our warm body temperature away. We were trembling and shivering and were jumping on the spot to warm up. All for a better view of the gas brigade. Nearly eight o’clock, here came the show again. The flames warmed us and all the bystanders, even though we were far away from the poles, we could still feel the heat. Wasn’t it fantastic? We stayed on the South Bank and watched it three times that evening.

10pm, chilly and windy, I was standing on the St. Kilda Beach. One of my favourite views - the beauty of the winter beach at night, peaceful and inspirational, makes people wanting to stand still and actually think…today was my third year anniversary of ‘Landing at Melbourne’. Good to celebrate it with all those seagulls and the gentle waves. I told my friend on the way to the beach that ‘I might be very emotional and if I cried please do not be surprises…’ and here it came, I could felt my eyes watering, and suddenly my vision blurred. A gentle voice rose, ‘It is a special day for you, so do what you like and don’t hold anything back. All those 1000 days must have given you lots of memories - bad, sad, boring, cheerful, encouraging and exciting...the important thing is to cherish what you have, not regret the things you have done and look forward the future. You are lucky that you have this anniversary to celebrate; I was born in Melbourne and never lived in another country up to now. Lucky buster!’ I could not hold my laughter. We ran back to the car and I could feel my tears freezing on my face. We ran so fast as if we were chased by some crazy dogs. Sitting in the car with the heater on, we could still see the beautiful beach view with the city lights as background.

I was thinking about a power point I have regarding life attitude. I had it for ages, but just recently I thought about it again. ‘It is necessary to make room, to leave an empty space in order to allow new things to arrive to your live. It is necessary that you get rid of all the useless things that are in you and in your life, in order for prosperity to arrive. The force of this emptiness is one that will absorb and attract all that you wish. As long as you are, materially and emotionally, holding old and useless feelings, you won’t have room for new opportunities.’ I could not agree any more. I sometimes collect useless things and I believe most people do the same thing. But don’t do it as a habit, don’t turn your objects and your memories into something that hold you back. Clean your drawers, the wardrobes, the workshop, the garage…it is so simple and so complicated, as we all know it but we just can do stay with the principle. My friend and I were laughing at how many useless things we had. Guess we will have to spend lots of time doing the ‘winter cleaning’. Here comes my favourite motto:

Dance as though no one is watching you
Love as though you have never been hurt before
Sing as though no one can hear you
Live as though heaven is on earth
May prosperity and peace reach you soon!

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13 July 2010

My school had a staff dinner in the last weeks of term two at a Thai restaurant. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know my colleagues. To be honest, during working days, you barely have time to sit down with your colleagues and chat. Everybody is super busy with all sorts of things. Nearly 150 staff, I think I only knew one third.

One colleague who lives very close to my house offered to pick me up because she knew that I was planning to have some wine with my dinner. By the time we got to the restaurant, people had already sat down along the long tables with many bottles of wine standing between them.

Conversation over wine and nice Thai food makes this place nice and cozy in the middle of winter night. All the girls sitting at my table are joking about each other; this would never happen during school days. I guess that’s what staff gatherings are for. You get to know your colleagues who work in your office more as friends. At 9.30pm, a couple of girls in our group decided to ‘go on gossiping’ over coffee, then go back to watch soccer after midnight. 15 minutes later, we were at the pancake shop; drinks were different, topics diversified, but laughter was the same. Glad to know all those girls as friends, I will definitely put my name down for the next staff gathering.

20100712_sally-with-car_AKI think I am addicted to driving now! Nothing can help me feel better than jumping into the car and driving. My friend told me that it is very usual for most new drivers. Driving on the undulating road, in the rain, after dark, with the wind, on the freeway, on the Westgate Bridge, in the rush hour CBD…every time is a challenge and new experience for me. I would have never thought that I could drive a car at 100km on the road before, now it is something usual on the freeway! Today I did the hook turn in the city for the first time, wow, exciting! Plus I have a very good driving instructor who is patient and has a ‘never yell at me’ teaching style. He always summarizes my driving performance for each lesson and points out something I need to improve on. For example, I always get confused at roundabouts and sometimes I will change my lanes without the indicator on. Then he takes me to different roundabouts to practice for one whole evening until I get much better. Good to have such a good teacher. My goal is to drive up to 120 hours and then attend the road test; I am confident that by then I will pass the test at the first attempt.

Waterfront city, city of Docklands, city of beautiful views…

The weather is cloudy, but the wind near the peer is refreshing and salty. I like it! I remember reading somewhere that the salty sea air can heal the insomnia and help people sleep better. I guess I will sleep like a log tonight!

We went past an outdoor cinema. Gee, the movie must be very good; otherwise, people will not stay outside in the chilly winter afternoon. Near the big screen, is the berthing place for many boats, including ‘the Australian first yacht’. We are busy ranking all those boats and try to find our favorite; too difficult to decide which one is the best. On the other side of the big screen, there are several statues: Graham Kennedy, the king of television, Dame Edna, a female character played by an actor whose name is Barry Humphries, Dame Nellie Melba, a world wide famous opera singer. I got a ‘professional tour guild’ presenting me the history of Australian entertainment culture. A very colorful wall with many smiling faces got my attention - a mosaic tribute, a variety of entertainers, we managed to add my face to this smiling wall in a photo.

20100712_sally-and-celebirty-wall_AKFrom the city waterfront, we can see the whole view of Etihad Stadium, the home of many matches of Australian football, the most popular sport in this country. It takes quite a long time to walk around the stadium with all that wind blowing. At the front of the stadium, we stand by to enjoy the amazing view - Bolte Bridge above the Yarra River with the clouds and seagulls as the background, peaceful. I also laugh when I see the sculpture ‘Cow up the tree’, which is based on a true story occurring in the Gippsland area of Victoria where a cow was stuck in a tree by floods; I guess the author got the inspiration from a strong water-based theme.

Saturday morning, I was busy in front of the mirror, dressing up for attending an engagement party. In China, usually people do not have engagement parties; instead we have a huge wedding ceremony for all friends and family to witness the happiness of the couple. It will be my first time attending an engagement party. I have already called several of friends about the dress code and the advice I got is ‘formal or smart casual smart’. I guess I will do formal today. The party venue is at a function room in a Port Melbourne hotel. From the window of the hotel, I can see the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ - a beautiful ferryboat that travels from Melbourne to Tasmania.

Many people brought their children and partners, it is more like a Chinese wedding ceremony where you get to know a lot of people. With a glass of wine or beer, all the guests are walking around, mingling. A guest made a speech about the history of this lovely couple - how they met, where they hung out, when they started living together, what is their favorite book. The last sentence she announced surprised everyone, ‘I would like to invite everyone present today to witness their wedding!’ Wow, isn’t it nice and surprising - an engagement party and a wedding ceremony. From the facial expressions of the other guests, I think nobody knew this except maybe family members; what a good surprise, so sweet. The bride read from their favorite book: I like you, and I know why, I like you because you are a good person to like…’ A very romantic and special wedding! My friend said it is not usual to have engagement party and wedding ceremony in the same day, but they did it for a very good reason - to skip a lot time-consuming procedures and get a happy ending straight away. I quite like that idea.

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29 June 2010

One Australian friend introduced me to the Shen Yun Performance Arts, saying that it was an excellent way of presenting Chinese culture. It has a worldwide performance tour in different cities every year. Now it is in Melbourne.

The Arts Centre State Theatre was a little crowded with all the audience presented. To my surprise all the dancers and musicians have actually grew up overseas, none of them came from mainland China. The Chinese Classic Dance, such as the Mongolian Dance, the Tibetan Dance and the Drum performance received many rounds of applause. My favorite was ‘Wu Song Da Hu’, a story-based dance. It gave us the dramatic portrayal to one of the most famous novels in China – ‘Shui Hu Zhuan’ and it presented the vivid image of the plot and characters as if I was re-reading this novel. It truly proved that dance and performance are able to overcome the language barrier and get the cultural message across to audiences all over the world. I noticed that most of the audience was Australian and I was the minority as a girl from China. Every time when I heard the applause from the audience and their comments of how magnificent the performance was, I was so proud of China and Chinese culture.

When I read the item ‘Australian reconciliation week’, I really had no clue what it was about. Thanks to the powerful searching engine Google, I got the meaning of it – ‘Reconciliation is about unity and respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians. It is about respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and valuing justice and equity for all Australians’. The reconciliation movement is said to have begun with the 1967 referendum in which 90 per cent of Australians voted to remove clauses in the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous Australians. As a result of the referendum, Aboriginal people were to be counted in the census.

At Melbourne City Town Hall, there was a Reconciliation Night to celebrate this significant issue. All the performers had Aboriginal background, including MC Ernie Dingo. Indigenous Hip Hop artists presented the audience with a live performance, the authentic indigenous dance brought us back to the indigenous land and showed us their life, joys, customs and ceremonies at that time. The highlight of the night was the speech by the chair women of ANTar Victoria Treaty Supporter’s Scroll. She said that we need treaties to provide the basis for a peaceful coexistence with the Indigenous Peoples. Australia is the only nation which still does not have a treaty. Treaties were made by the British when they invaded North America. Canada re-kindled its treaty process in the 1970s and is resolving issues of land, resources, service-delivery and self-government. If others countries could do this, the Indigenous people in Australian should get the treaty. My friend and I signed the Treaty Supporter Declaration and Agreement by putting our fingerprint on a large piece of paper. It was really nice to see so many people come along to this event to show their support.

Lentil As Anything (LAA). Heard about this restaurant from several friends, finally got opportunity to go over and try it. Located in the grounds of Abbotsford Convent, it is the largest of all five lentil restaurants in Melbourne. It basically runs on a model of trust, you pay what you feel like it’s worth. Customers will never ever get the bills from the waitress and they will never be judged by how much they pay. Such a different concept from the normal business running structure! Couldn’t wait to try. We parked the car at the corner of the venue; it was quiet and chilly as we were walking towards the restaurant. Outside LAA, people were chatting around the table; from their dress and musical instruments, I thought some of them were artists and musicians. And here it was, Lentil As Anything - candles on the table, buffet set up, a pianist was playing some classic music, warm and cozy, a girl came to address us, she was talking to us like chatting with friends or neighbors with a big smile and cheerful tone. I could tell immediately that this restaurant was different from others - people working here were happy and they make others happy too. We ordered coffee and tea and sat down at the only table left. Surrendered by the classic music, happy faces, cheerful and spicy vegetarian food, I felt like I was sitting in my backyard under the starry sky. No wonder people like this place, it is not only the food, but more important is it makes you feel. I got the chance to talk to a waiter, he told me that there were only few full time staff working here, the rest of them were volunteers coming from all over Melbourne for the opportunity to gain work experience and all the additional support services that are provided here. He said that multiculturalism is Australia's greatest asset and LAA was one good example of how multiculturalism worked in Melbourne, guess that was my conclusion of tonight’s journey.

When I walked into my office last week, there was a bunch of flowers sitting on my desk, fragrant and beautiful. I had no idea who gave them to me. Suddenly the phone rang, that was Mareen, she said, ‘Sally, hope you like all those flowers, they are from my backyard. I saw them and thought you would like them because you like colorful things. What a nice surprise. Since I joined this school, I felt the kindness and consideration of my colleagues every day. Sometimes I get a piece of chocolate in my pigeon hole, sometimes they give  me a lolly when I drop by their office, sometimes they make great jokes and let everyone have a good laugh. I guess that is the reason why I feel happy every day even if work can sometimes be stressful and time-consuming.

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11 June 2010

The coordinator called me recently to introduce a new student to move into my place. She is a Year 12 Chinese girl from Shanghai, mature and polite. The house inspection was held in a very relaxed atmosphere. She quite liked the spacious room and wanted to move in as soon as possible. I was glad to have another student to keep me company me so soon. Two days later, she moved in. Welcome, my new student, I will try my best to make it your home—comfortable, cozy and safe.

Last year I attended the Homestay consultation group as a student, this time I sat in the meeting venue as a Homestay mum. Same topic, different role! The international student coordinator invited us to share our homestay experience, communicate with each other and improve ourselves as homestay parents. I was pretty new to this group, actually I was a ‘baby’ here, some of them had more than ten years’ experience. They must have had a lot of students living with them and got acquainted to different cultures. It was quite interesting to listen to their insights. I suggested schools should provide the student timetable to each homestay parent in order to supervise the student’s attendance. We all agreed it’s a good way to cooperate with the school and teachers.

We also had a long discussion about international students driving in Australia. The recommendation was to find out the Vic Roads regulations regarding under 18 international students driving. If the regulations were not clear enough, maybe start communication with the department. To be honest, none of us thought allowing high school international students to drive in Melbourne was a good idea. The road conditions in their own country could be very different; in many countries people drive on the opposite side. Driving in an unfamiliar environment can be risky. Plus they all stay in homestay accommodation which is quite close to their schools; there is no need for them to drive to school. We looked forward to the follow up information of this issue.

Sandown is the car racing track home of the Victorian State Circuit Racing Championships venue. At 3pm, nice afternoon with beautiful sunshine, beside my friend’s racing car, I was throwing questions about car racing at him. He tried his best to satisfy my curiosity. I wrote down the answers to all my questions and made a big mess on the clipboard. Sitting in the car is very different than what I imagined—the seat is very low, close to the ground, all the wires and knob are outside without cover, so you nearly can see through everything. It was a sole-driver car with the rollcage built inside it, there was a camera on one side of the rollcage for recording. In my words, it is for professional development—drivers can watch it afterwards to analyse the weaknesses and strengths in order to improve their skills in the future. There was also an electronic dash to record the log data.

The other driver who shared the garage with my friend was quite interesting. A Year 11 girl, she is in the class of Formula Vee. With the encouragement and financial support from her family, she has just started her professional racing journey. She is excited about her dream: ‘one day, I want to do Formula 1, to compete against the top racers around the world’. She is an ambitious lady!

It’s the time for a friend to race. We went up to the second floor to get the best view. He turned his headlights on to make sure we will see him. It was very loud and windy, and some cars were really fast! A friend was very kind and acted as the ‘car racing culture ambassador’ to make sure I was on the right track to follow the race. I noticed that most of the audience was male, and so were the drivers. Car racing has always been a male-dominated hobby, but nowadays, there are increasingly more women showing an interest. Maybe I will be one of them in the future; but only after the full training.

Chocolate has always been my love. So recently we went to Hahndorf’s Fine Chocolate. The owner came from Germany and brought the traditional German way of making chocolate. After we ordered drinks, they presented us with a whole tray of hand-made chocolate and we had to choose one. One feature of this shop is the complementary chocolate to go with the drinks. I reckon every little small chocolate has an interesting story so it makes it difficult to choose. My choice was the black chocolate with moose filling; it melted in my mouth and tasted like a drop of the heaven. The highlight of this chocolate-tasting journey was that I got a small package of chocolates as a reward for being a chocolate fan for such a long time. Isn’t that nice?

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28 May 2010

I noticed that from my second term in my job at the school, very often I would get international students line up outside my office waiting for me after school. Obviously that ‘Homework program’ did help them in terms of homework or any questions related to their school subjects.

I remember that in the first term we had to chase students to get them to stay after school because they regarded it as the program for slow students who were not able to do the homework on their own. After several months of getting to know each other, I think they became more comfortable to stay in the program talking to me about their problems. Sometimes I would get more students than I could handle, then I had to keep walking around from the computer area to the open area to make sure both groups were doing ok with their homework. I think after they got to know me more, they trusted me and were willing to get assistance. I felt really good to see them making progress. I know it is going to be a long journey because most of them are just year 10, still 3 years to go. I just feel lucky that I can be with them on this journey.

The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian Branch Building hosted the 2010 Women’s Conference. More than 100 women from primary school, secondary school, TAFE and private college gathered there to celebrate their own event. The first guest speaker, the previous AEU president, presented a fascinating speech about the history of AEU campaigns for women workforce. I could image how tough it was for women in those days to fight for position equal to men. Even nowadays, women are paid far less than men in many fields. Quote her conclusion, ‘long way to go…’ My favorite workshop was ‘Building resilience and dealing with negative people’. The facilitator gave us various examples from the school environment and her own life to show us how important it is for us to know some strategies to avoid the negative impact from some people around. I quite liked her way to make us interact in class telling our stories and how bad we feel after talking to them because their winging and complaining. She even gave us a handout of analysis and solutions; I think I have something interesting to read later on.   

I was told by one of my colleagues that if I really wanted to get into the Melbourne culture, choosing a footy team to support is a must. It is something people here take very seriously. Footy in Melbourne sometimes is like a religion—you follow a team, support it 100 per cent and never switch. People also get a strong influence in choosing their team either from their family or friends. I became the ‘target’ of my friends now and maybe that is why I went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to watch Collingwood vs. Hawthorn. More than 70 000 people were there to watch the game. Most of them had their uniforms on - scarf, hat, jacket, face painting and all sorts of other decorations. My friend is a Collingwood supporter and use to work as a footy show producer. He promised me before the footy that he was going to explain the game to me all the way through the match. Watching a live game is very different from TV; you can just hear people cheering, clapping, complaining and shouting, so vivid, so clear and so loud! My friend has done a fantastic job guiding me through the game—the main empire, the goal empire, the goal, the point and the free kick… During the break, something unexpected appeared—children of all ages came to the footy ground to present their own ‘footy competition’. I was expecting cheerleaders to come along and do their routine dance like they usually do during basket ball or soccer competitions. I got my friend laughing at me about it…Collingwood won, you should have seen my friend and all the Collingwood supporters’ faces—radiating with happiness and satisfaction. Watching the audiences leaving the venue in groups, I suddenly realised that footy brings people together - parents with their children, couples, colleagues and friends. Footy is a medium to get us together to enjoy something we like, this is the amazing part of footy and this is the reason why it is so popular here.

The other day we were standing on the hilly road overlooking the Frankston sea bay with sunshine embracing us gently and warmly and we got off the car on the way to Mornington Peninsula. Ashcombe Maze was our first stop. It is the oldest traditional hedge maze in the southern hemisphere. There are three different mazes there. My friend and I got lost completely in the green tall hedge maze. I still can’t figure it out how we got out of there and walked to the Rose Maze. This was my favorite – ‘a fragrant challenge’. My friend kept reminding me to watch out for the thorns, I was just ignoring him, such beautiful flowers around, even to get caught by a thorn, I would not complain. There was a lake in the park, I don’t know the name of it, and we just followed the path to it. It was an amazing view along the road, all trees were changing colors on the leaves. At the end of the rainbow road, there was the lake, deep blue water, motionless and soundless, shining under the sunshine with birds singing and flying on top of the water. I didn’t want to move or talk, I just wanted the time to keep still and never let this view go…My friend dragged me back to reality and pushed me back to the winery; he suggested the white wine will make the day even better and he was quite right! I tried at least three types of white wine and I am sure that I tried to remember their names when they were explaining them to me. At the end of the wine tasting, I didn’t feel very sober. Lunch was fire-wood pizza with another glass of wine, it tasted beautiful. On the way back, we parked the car near Frankston beach and walked there with a blanket. Sitting on the beach with a fresh air blowing our hair and spacious sea view was the best part of our trip. With the help of several glasses of wine, I successfully ‘kicked my friend’ out of the blanket and started practicing ‘Sally Yoga’. That felt really feel awesome! 

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17 May 2010

I remember when I was young and had my mum always in the kitchen with an apron on doing cooking or washing, I was surprised at how energetic and magical she was to make something into delicious food and turn the messy room into a tidy world within short time; suddenly I am a Homestay ‘Mum’ myself. My first student is only 15 years old, a lovely Chinese boy with curly hair and tanned skin. He just finished the study at Language Centre and will go to year 10. He is polite and always calls me ‘aunt’. I am a little bit nervous because he is my first homestay student and I really want him to feel at home and comfortable here. I chatted with him every evening in the first week about his family, his habits, likes and dislikes. On the third day after he moved in, I talked to his parents in China online. He always tells me about what happened at school, some gossip about girls and the teachers. It is really enjoyable to talk to a 15 year old boy who trusts me and almost tells me everything. I feel good about him accepting me as an aunt and a family friend. Well, the test of my first homestay mum experience was not that hard to pass.

Working in an international student program keeps me busy and happy. Most of my international kids come from China. They do have a lot of transitional issues and difficulties to adjust to Australian high school life. It is not easy at all, especially because they are under 18. Students at this age usually stay with their parents and get well looked after, but my students are here without family, living at homestay, learning high school subjects in another language and eating food which is very different from their home-made meal. All of these factors will affect their learning and developing process and that is why they need extra support in every aspect to assist during this difficult period. Usually they are very shy and too polite to ask any questions during or after class. I have to double check with them that they understand and follow the instructions. They are very smart kids and all they need is someone to be there telling them that everything will be all right as long as they are making efforts. I love this role of encourager. After several months being with them, I get to know them more - their learning habits, their methods, their strengths and weaknesses. When I bump into them at school or after class and they address me ‘morning, Miss Huang’, I feel this is the reward for being with them - the respect and recognition of my students.

I attended the Dutch Orange Day, organised by The Dutch community in Melbourne to celebrate Queen Beatrix's Birthday. Queensbridge Square was a sea of orange. Dutch folkdances attracted the audience's attention; it was amazing to see them dancing in clogs - I thought they must be so heavy to dance with. I found from the clog-making demonstration that they are quite light because they are made of poplar, a fairly light tree. For the first time in my life, I saw a traveling concert organ - Australian Fair, which was made in 1888 and has been entertaining and delighting generations throughout Australia. I was curious of how it worked so we went to the back of the organ. Someone was about to change the book for the organ to read; so I got excited and asked whether I could try it, of course the answer was positive, so I got another ‘first time experience’ - loading the book into the machine for it to read and play the song. I was told that it has more than 500 books.

The poffertjes, little small traditional pancakes were delicious; the tulips made from fret saw were beautiful; I also tried Sjoelen – a traditional boardgame - and beat my friend which was fun. Altogether it was an unforgettable event. 

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7 January 2010

My month of hard-working job-hunting finally paid back! Today I got a phone call from a government school asking me whether I was available to get some paperwork and my contract arranged in the near future. At the interview I felt I had a good chance. It was my third job interview; from the first two I didn’t hear back. In this case they called the next morning. I felt extremely excited, it was just like a dream come true…

I was getting worried about all the time I was spending job hunting and results were not coming. I will not need to worry about it any more…plus this was my dream job, not just any job. I would have the opportunity to use my bilingual skills to assist students with a Chinese background. From the end of January, my life will be totally changed. I am looking forward to this big change.

I have never had such a strong feeling for Christmas before this year. This time I was so absorbed by the Christmas atmosphere. I guess it is a good sign to adjust so well to Australian culture.

I was lucky to be invited by several Australian families to celebrate Christmas. One of them had a strong English background; the mum cooked a very traditional English Christmas meal. All the guests came after 5pm, exchanging gifts, passing Christmas best wishes, enjoying English tea. The dining room was beautifully decorated - the Christmas tree was lit with the colour bulbs, Christmas cards were displayed on the table, Christmas carols filling the room, Christmas crackers on the table. Everything was immaculate: the china was fancy; the napkins with Christmas trees decorations on it, and everybody had a Santa hat with sparking lights on.

Chicken, pumpkin, green beans and other vegetables were beautifully cooked. After dinner, we sat in the backyard under the starry sky; it was a little chilly and windy, but with a warm blanket and a hot drink, we turned the backyard into the most comfortable and sociable place on the planet. My friends were saying English jokes, but sometimes I needed them to explain the funny point. They had all been friends for many years and they almost always spend Christmas together. I guess that’s what Christmas is for; to bring family and friends closer together, to keep people meeting each other for very good reasons, to keep this world running happily…

The other Christmas dinner was prepared in the traditional Aussie way—something cold and something sweet. Twelve people of five different nationalities were sitting on two big tables. Christmas candles, turkey and Pavlova cake on the table. The most enjoyable moment was listening to everyone singing Christmas carols accompanied by the piano. I was not familiar with all those carols, but hearing them was fascinating.

I had planned the New Year’s Eve dinner party at my place for quite a while. A few Australian friends came over to celebrate the last day of 2009. It was very warm outside, but inside my flat was cool and comfortable. One of them had never tried authentic Chinese food before, although he was very familiar with a dish called ‘beef and black beans’ from the Chinese restaurant on campus. During dinner, my friend kept asking me the names of all the dishes and the ingredients. He seemed surprised because the Chinese food I cooked was quite different from food he tried in the Chinese take away shops before.

I served soup and main courses. When it was time for dessert, the wind outside was already really strong. Within half an hour, when everyone was sitting on the couch tasting the chocolate ice pole, it began raining heavily. Melbourne weather totally changed from 36 degrees at 7pm to stormy, rainy and windy at 9pm. For New Year’s Eve, it seemed that the weather was celebrating by demonstrating its diversity.

Some friends left around 10.30pm to watch the fireworks. The other two friends had a surprise for me - an overnight party! They didn’t tell me it was overnight; they just said it was a party held at a friend’s place in St Kilda. We drove through the rain and bought some drinks on the way to the party. It was an 80’s themed party and people were wearing fancy shirts and pants. I guess I was one of the few people 21 century-dressed. But no one cared; it was New Year’s Eve. We counted down from 10 to 1 before midnight and then everybody was hugging and kissing their friends. I danced the whole night. Friends around us were drinking and mingling. At 6am, my friend and I were the only two who were still very sober. My first overnight party in Australia, I will never forget… 

17 December 2009

The other day I chose and cut down a Christmas tree in a farm. I have never done this before!

We were on our way to North Pole Christmas Tree Farm and there were farms along the road. Cows, sheep and horses were wondering around the grass land. The farm was on top of a hill and after we parked the car, we could see thousands of trees lined up: they were beautiful and cheerful. I could hear them say: 'take me home, Sally, take me home…'

The process of choosing was not easy at all. My friend is 185 cm tall and he said that he prefers to have a tree taller than him but not too high. I insisted that we should have a tree with a good shape and nice top, not too leafy but definitely green. Then we started our tree-hunting journey. 40 minutes later, we were sitting in the shadow of a big tree and laughing at how picky we were. I said: 'we certainly need to keep our standards high, this is my first Christmas tree and I want it to be perfect'. My friend agreed.

A beautiful Christmas tree was standing in front of us, with green and rich branches. Perfect height and width! We knelt down and started cutting it with a handsaw; it took a lot of effort to get this baby down. A delivery truck was parked near the venue and a guy who worked on the farm helped us drag the tree on the back of the truck. We hopped on the back of the truck just sitting beside the tree and off we went, time to pay for this lovely tree…10 minutes later, this baby was lying down on the trailer behind our car, imagining how wonderful his new home would be…

On the way back, we passed a farm where many cows were scattered all over the place enjoying their afternoon siesta. Suddenly they noticed the green tree on our trailer and ran towards us. In 5 minutes, there were at least 30 cows standing in front of us, but luckily on the other side of the fence. My friend said that the cows thought we were the people bringing them food because we might have gone past at their feeding time. Poor cows, they must have felt very disappointed after they realised we didn’t have any food for them. We chose to drive away as fast as we could to not upset them even more.

We went past another farm where two beautiful horses were chatting on the green grass. We got off the car and walked close to them; one horse approached us and put its head over of the fence to eat grass. My friend and I than started feeding this gorgeous creature. I had never fed a horse before so I was a little bit scared and hesitated. But my friend helped me and told me that as long as I kept my palm open and flat and leave the grass on the middle of the palm, there would be no risk to be bitten by the horse. I could feel his tongue rubbing gently on my palm. I patted on his neck and his head when he was eating the grass, how wonderful it was… he had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen!

Time flies! I still remember the 2008 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) where all the delegates came from different postgraduate associations around Australia and gathered to discuss postgraduates’ issues. Now we were meeting again in 2009. I gave a presentation as International Student Officer (ISO), the topics included the enquiries into international student welfare and other reviews, developments around the representation of international students, improving student safety and gaining access to public transport concession cards. I demonstrated that CAPA has continued to promote and expand its engagement on behalf of international postgraduates throughout the last twelve months and had a very successful year.

This year was CAPA’s thirtieth birthday; the dinner was served in an elegant place. VIPs were invited, including several previous CAPA presidents. An Indigenous lady, the 2004 CAPA president, gave a very passionate and meaningful speech about how she became CAPA president. Before the dinner, I had set myself a goal to talk to every single person attending this conference before the dinner finished. At 11.30pm, I thought I successfully achieved my goal…

I was encouraged by several friends to candidate for the vice-president (equity) position at AGM. My first response to it was no…I did not think I could handle this; as vice president, I certainly needed to be very articulated in English and very knowledgeable in all issues. Then I had a very long discussion with my friends and they said that even though English was not my first language, I was responsible and keen to get everything done as perfect as possible which meant that I would prepare for my speech and presentation to make my language perfect in public. Although I was not familiar with all the equity issues of postgraduate students, with my work ethics and the achievement of being ISO, I certainly could pick up things very quickly to suit the vice-president role. I would like to thank all those encouraging friends in my life, it is because of them that my heart is fearless when I am facing huge challenges. My mind was determined after the discussion: go for the vice-president role, Sally, nothing to fear and nothing to lose! You should give it a try…
The result was great; I will serve all postgraduates of Australia next year as vice-president of CAPA. A lot of issues need to be pushed forward and addressed: international students’ issues, same-sex rights, women’s rights and the rights of disabled students. I bet next year I will be even busier than before. I look forward to commencing the new role!

25 November 2009

Lately I have been locking myself in my bedroom, filling in job applications: Fix-term, on-going position, full-time, part-time…like everyone else who wants to join the workforce in Australia, I have been spending a lot of time doing research, writing selection criteria, polishing my cover letter and CV. Now I found out that the information I got from the seminar run by La Trobe University about the job hunting was really helpful and handy: the format of the CV and cover letter, the hints of how to impress the potential employee and how to dress suitably etc.

Just a few days ago was the deadline for a few ‘dream’ jobs and I was sitting in my friend’s office until 11pm, both of us exhausted and half-dead trying to get all the applications done. By 11:45pm, 15 minutes early before the due time, I had sent all the applications online. It was not an easy job at all!

I was always wondering how come it can take half a year or more for some of my friends to find an appropriate job; now I totally understand that it’s like a battle where I have to predict and plan everything in order to win… My thanks to all those Australian friends that helped me: it was them sitting beside me checking my grammar mistakes and my sentence structures. It was them giving me hints and advice about how to deal with the interviews. Without them, this experience would be much more daunting and challenging…

Birthday…it was my third birthday in Melbourne and I organised different venues and dates to celebrate. Some of my friends were working in the other side of the city or further, some of them were under extremely urgent deadlines at work, just could not manage to get them all together on the same day. I liked it this way, three celebrations for my birthday…

An Australian friend highly recommended the book ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ to me. He reckoned it was the best book he had ever read and he had to stay up very late every night because he could not stop reading it. We were talking about the movie which was filmed based on the book. So we went and watched it. When the last scenes of the movie faded away from the screen, I was still drying my eyes. What a great film! I loved the main character, his way of pursuing his freedom under extreme circumstances. He lost a lot because of his freedom dream, including the right to go back to China and visit his family. I could not help myself to think that this has happened to many of us to some extent.

Often you just have to sacrifice something to achieve your goal. For example, if you want to keep yourself fit and in good shape, you would have to say goodbye to the junk food even if you love eating it. If you want to become a top student, you have to spend more time studying instead of enjoying yourself and relaxing. It is all about balance and decision making.

Next to my house there are two parks - Darebin and Bundoora Park. Walking in those parks before sunset is one of my favorite parts of the day. Luckily I got some good walking buddies who share my passion. This Saturday’s walking plan was a bit different because we knew that it was going to be a storm that day. When my friend came up to my place it was humid and cloudy; all signs showed that the storm was coming soon. We decided to go anyway, taking the risk, even if it rained. We brought our umbrellas and waterproof coats; we walked on the path in the beautiful green park. La Trobe Moat was running smoothly next to the path, chatty ducks were looking for food and there were three dogs busy chasing balls. I suggested we should take the shortcut back, which we hadn’t tried before, and my friend agreed. We got to a fence, about 2.5 metres high. He climbed over the fence before me, then I managed to get myself over the fence too…wearing a skirt made this task difficult, but finally I got it done. And then it started to rain. Not raining, but pouring. We were still 20 minutes walking distance away from home. I took my umbrella out of my bag, he put his waterproof jacket on and we walked through the rain. We squashed under my small umbrella in the heavy rain, my leggings, my shoes and my socks were wet. It was the first time in Australia that I was walking outside in such a heavy rain, I could barely see a thing…but I loved it, fresh air with plenty rain, this is what Melbourne needed.

5 November 2009

Recently I got involved in helping a Chinese filming project. A Chinese film crew visited La Trobe University to make a short film about the higher education in Australia. I liaised with the representative of Australian Education International (AEI) to prepare all necessary facilities for the film crew, look for suitable interviewees, organise lunch and car park place.

I was also one of the two student interviewees, how exciting! Because this film is going to be present at the Education Expo in China next year, the interview was held in Mandarin. All the preparation done, the film crew's visiting day came. The venue was the lawn in front of Glenn College.

We started with the first question which was ‘how do you feel about the volunteer job in Australia?’ I guess it was the right question for me since I had been involved in various volunteer roles in the last year, such as President of La Trobe University Postgraduate Association, International Student Officer at the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, broadcaster at a community radio station, Mandarin teacher, MC of the Chinese community events, etc.

I said that being a volunteer was an extremely valuable experience in Australian society, not only because it provided the work experience for a future career, but also the recognition from the society, the sense of achievement you had when others show the respect to your contribution. Some foreigners laughed at volunteers, thought that they were unable to find a paid job, but in Australian society, being a volunteer is seen as a way to contribute to this country, to show your gratitude to people who have directly or indirectly helped you before and ultimately it is valuable experience on your resume.

Lastly the film crew asked for suggestions for those students who want to come to Australia to further their studies. Based on my own experience, I strongly recommended them to get familiar with Australian accent and culture by watching some Australian movies and documentaries about society and culture, to improve their English writing and speaking skills as much as they could and to learn how to live independently before they leave China. For example, to learn how to cook and how to look after themselves - this would turn out very valuable when they are adjusting to Australian life.  

It was really nice to be back to the Darebin Homestay Workshop follow up to discuss the homestay recommendations for 2010; this event was organised by the Darebin Council and Australian Homestay Network (AHN) in order to provide affordable and safer homestay accommodation for international students. The first workshop was one month ago and this time we would come up with final recommendations. The workshop went very well although we had some debating between students and the hosts regarding the meals.

Traditional homestay always includes meals (two or three), and it is very convenient for international students because they don’t need to worry about grocery shopping and cooking. However this makes the cost a bit higher (about $250 per week) which can be beyond a lot of students’ budget. The students all suggested that the homestay should have more options, such as non-meal, one meal, or 2 to 3 meals, depending on students’ requirement. This way, students would have more freedom to choose their favourite homestay according to their financial situation; also, more people would be able to be hosts, because some just do not have time and energy to cook for students, even though they would happily give their spare room and would like to be the hosts.

A few hosts strongly opposed this option and indicated that it would defeat the purpose of homestay. I disagreed with them and pointed out that there were various ways to involve students in Australian culture and life apart from eating at the same table. Plus the more choices and flexibility the homestay offered, the more students and hosts would be interested in this. Majority of the attendance agreed with these options after the debate. The facilitator announced at the end of the workshop that there would be a launch of this homestay reform held by the City of Darebin Council and the Australian Homestay Network very soon. I would be honoured to be the guest speaker as a student representative in this event and I am really looking forward to it.  

Recently I spent two hours in front of a camera practicing different gestures and facial expressions, all for an online documentary project for La Trobe University. Basically speaking, they took pictures of students who were doing some interesting things at the present accompanied by their tools. In my case, those tools were the big oversized concession card that I used in the Concession Card Rally and piles of folders with documents and submissions inside.

After arriving at the Union Hall, there was a brief interview about my hobbies, favourite food and fruits. Then the photographer was trying some pictures without saying anything just to try the light and the angle. Five minutes later, the real shooting began. ‘Big smile, serious, laugh, curious, tired’ – I had to act all those facial expressions, a bit hard for my face, but really a lot of fun to try them all in a short time. I was also told to hold my lovely folders, four in each hand to do different gestures, funny way, balanced way and imbalanced way... Half way through, I was really sweating a lot. Oh, gosh, it was like I was exercising in the gym, the difference is that this time, I was doing it in front of the camera. By the end of the two hours, I was exhausted and could not help myself to think that the models don’t have such an easy job. I have only tried it for two hours, but for professional models, they spend all day doing this, wow, hard job. But fun.   

24 September 2009

Every Monday afternoon, 5pm at RMIT City Campus Café, the Concession Cards Coalition (CCC) in Victoria has a weekly meeting to discuss the rally of concession cards for international and postgraduate students in Victoria.

LUPA supported the rally in last April, for this upcoming protest; no doubt we are on board this time too. The atmosphere of the meeting is very friendly and everyone has an opportunity to have their own say about how to push this protest forward. The members take turns to report what they did last week and come up with ideas of how to promote, how to involve more students, how to run the Rally, etc. Through all those meetings, we came up with many ideas, such as involving not only students from university levels, but also supporters from private colleges and language centres; organising publicity in diverse ways, like websites, flyers, public speeches, online and paper petitions, student newspapers, local community newspapers, radio and TV programs, emails and media release. Sometimes I cannot help myself to think that it is this kind of meeting that shows me something different—the democratic people, the democratic country…

The president of LTU Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) called me today inviting me to their welcome party. La Trobe CSSA is a non-profit organisation that aims to assist Chinese students adapting to life at La Trobe and provide opportunities to make studying abroad more colourful. Every semester CSSA runs a variety of activities and functions for its members, including free BBQs and off-campus outings. This time, it was a welcome party at Ping’s café. The party started at 6pm and more than 95 students showed up and a
La Trobe International staff member attended the event and took photos. Students were enjoying the food, talking in their mother language, exchanging contact details, making new friends during the whole event. I thought it was a very good way to bring all Chinese students together to exchange ideas.

I always believed that Melbourne is a multicultural city with residents coming from all parts of the world. You just could tell from the pedestrians on the streets of the city - different skin color, different way of dressing and different languages. The event I attended today was the proof of this fact - the community consultation hosted by Victorian Multicultural Commission. The purpose of the consultation was to provide a formal opportunity for members of Victoria’s ethnic and religious communities to comment on the performance of the Victorian Government in multicultural affairs. The consultation group I joined today was just one of the series community consultations across Victoria. At 2pm, Preston City Hall was croweded with people. I got the opportunity to chat with the chairperson of the event and found he had Chinese background. The meeting started with the greeting from Victorian Multicultural Commission committee and the Mayor of City of Darebin. Then the attendance took turns to give their comments on the Victorian Government’s programs, services and policies. One participant raised the issue that the government should improve the public transport service, especially on weekend in order to help the senior residents who were not able to drive to travel around. I thought it was a good suggestion for those elderly citizens. When it was my turn to have my say, I talked about the issues of concession cards for international students and postgraduate students, the comparatively higher school fee of the independent of international postgraduate students and the improvement of the inclusion of international students in Victorian community. The chairman also suggested I should submit my comments and ideas to the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The event ended with a presentation of the Community Grants Program for 2009-2010 which I found quite interesting and encouraging.

This weekend I was pretty busy with a translating job. I was helping someone who is heading to China to translate their presentation about La Trobe University. 82 slides full of health science special terms. I started on Thursday evening,  I spent 3 hours getting 16 slides done. At the beginning, it was pretty tough because many terms were new to me and I had to look them up in a dictionary. The good thing was that after the twentieth slide, everything got quicker and I found myself familiar with the terms and I did not need to refer to any dictionary. Friday, I spent the whole day translating and got to the fiftieth slide by the end of the day. Saturday I worked slowly because I knew I would have a whole day to get it done. The sunshine was resting on my shoulders when I was typing in the Chinese characters. After sending the email to my colleague, I really felt relieved and relaxed…three days spent translating…fun for me!

2 September 2009

The CAPA (Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations) team has already prepared a lot for inquiry into the welfare of international students based on our submission to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee.

We were the first team to give evidence to those Senators last week. We did the last rehearsal over breakfast. We brought up the issue of international students having equal rights as local students (can work fulltime, have transport concession) if they are able to manage their study under the monitoring of the education provider. One Senator mentioned a recommendation from another organisation – to extend the work hours to 24 hours/week to allow students to work three full days. I thought it was a not bad idea.

The other hot topic was the work opportunities for postgraduates. We argued that it was hard for graduates to stay here after their graduation if they could not meet the point base on Permanent Residency application requirements. In order to give graduates more opportunities to get social inclusive experience, the government should give all graduates a certain amount of time (18 to 24 months) to stay in this country and contribute their talents. My colleague’s experience of late arrival in Australia due to visa processing delay drew a lot of attention from the panel. They wanted to involve him in a future case study to explore how to improve the visa processing procedure.

This week I was involved for the first time in the Australian Homestay workshop organised by Darebin City Council and the Australian Homestay Network. The workshop was for both homestay hosts and potential students, focusing on how to make homestay accessible for more students. During the discussion, we all agreed that homestay was a safer, quieter and more comfortable shelter for students. However, the main problem was that the price is still quite high and only around few students are able to afford it. I mentioned that maybe we should come up with the adjusted model of excluding meals for mature students who could look after themselves and cook the meals. Another Indian student suggested having the twin sharing room instead of the typical model (single room) in order to attract students who were willing to share the bedroom. I thought it was a very practical suggestion. I mean, if two people were willing to try to share one bedroom, the host should be more flexible.

The facilitator kept asking questions and encouraged short and concise answers. The discussion covered topics such as the expectations of students and hosts, how to be a good host and a good homestay student, how students can get a more positive experience, what should hosts and students prepare before they met each other. The outcome of the workshop was quite good and informative; as a student, I sincerely hope all those recommendations could help both homestay agents and hosts to  establish the diversified models of homestay to benefits international students.

20 August 2009

The political party the Greens held an International Education Roundtable in Melbourne last week. As the ISO of Council of Australian Postgraduates (CAPA), I was sitting opposite to Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young. She greeted everyone with a big smile and encouraged us to briefly introduce us first. All delegates came from different education sectors, including a representative from the private colleges.

We started with the issue of transport concession fee for postgraduate and international students in Victoria. The meeting continued with various topics that concern international students, such as safety, exploitation at employment places, affordable accommodation, immigration and visa conditions issues, the employment opportunities and career support, the inclusion and positive life experience for international students. The senator was carefully listening to the opinions of the delegates and taking notes. Sometimes she would stop the representative politely and ask some related questions.

I talked about the recommendations that came out of the focus group of Indian students (La Trobe University Postgraduate Associations), the prompt and positive response to the recommendations from
La Trobe University, the benefits that students obtained from those recommendations. The meeting lasted nearly two hours. At the end of the meeting, Sarah had to politely stop everyone and suggested for everyone to hand in the submission for the public hearing in September.

The President of Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) called me and said that there was a journalist from The Australian newspaper interested in the outcome of the LUPA focus group regarding the international students issues.

After LUPA conducted the focus group interview with Indian students, La Trobe University had a prompt and positive response to the recommendations of this interview and has agreed to extend library hours at Bundoora campus and extend a security bus service to include a pick up at Macleod railway station at night.

Meanwhile, articles about the LUPA focus group recommendation were published not only in University publications, such as University news, InterNews, LUPA e-news, but also was showed on some national news, such as the CAPA media release and The Australian. I was glad that with the joint efforts of LUPA and La Trobe University, students would benefit from this outcome. I was also impressed with the concern of the University for international students. As an international student living in on campus, I never felt unsafe before. No matter how late I stayed up in my office or came back from the city, I never worried about safety. I knew there was always the security bus service and there were always those helpful security staff around campus.

This week’s presentation was a follow up from the Student Safety Forum conducted last week at the Bundoora Campus. The presenter from La Trobe International introduced us to the new Student Safety Information which LTI currently made available to international students. The information package was quite comprehensive and included almost everything we could think about, such as accommodation (on and off-campus), driving, public transport and travelling. 

On Tuesday at 4pm, the consultation of international students group started and new students kept arriving. There were altogether more than 40 students attending what was meant to be a 10 -12 participant consultation. At last the organiser had to split us into two groups in different rooms to ensure the quality of the consultation. Employment was one of several hot topics. Students were asking for some legal service to help them protect them from exploitation from the employers, to ensure they have full awareness of working under legal payment. The seminar or free training for career and employment was also on the agenda. Of course, full concessions of public transportation arouse a lot of discussion. All of us strongly believe that the Victorian Government should issue international students and postgraduate students the equal rights of getting access to full concession cards. It was so good to see all those international students have their say and put forward their ideas! At the end of the discussion, we all agreed to set up a student council or international student centre in order to assist international students to have a positive experience of living and studying in Darebin. The senior researcher of this group informed us that he would definitely pass this information to the City of Darebin Council and seek the possibility to make those ideas come true in the future.

Yesterday I was sitting in an elegant cake shop tasting a yummy lemon cake. This shop was highly recommended by a friend who said that it is a place where I can try some English cakes. We walked around the street for about half an hour to do some window exploration before we actually walked into this shop. My friend was really kind and whenever I pointed out one cake in the show window, he would do the brief introduction of it: name, material, taste, origin etc. For me, those cakes were not only something yummy to the stomach, but also a feast to my eyes. It really took me a long time to select one cake. Half an hour later, we were on the way to St Kilda Pier.

After we parked the car, we headed to the beach. I zipped up my coat because of the wind. It was the first time I walked on the beach in the chilly winter. The sea seemed different from day time—the water reflected the lights from the land and from the full moon in the sky. Finally we came down the Breakwater and I was busy watching the sail boats resting on the sea, my friend showed me some penguins. I hadn’t expected to see them in Melbourne ! I went to Phillip Island to see those lovely creatures walking back from the sea to their nests. But this is Melbourne, how come there were penguins here? My friend told me that about one hundred little penguins make the St Kilda Breakwater their home. The wind stopped for a minute and I could actually hear them snoring. Out of the blue, a little one came out from the nest; he looked at us first, and then walked from a lower rock to a higher one, it seemed like he was trying to talk to another penguin. You just can’t imagine how amazing it was to be an observer of those sleepy little penguins! Bye, lovely little penguins, sweet dreams!

06 August 2009

The other day when I was checking my email, I was a little bit surprised to get an email from the Immigration Department. I was invited as a guest speaker to do a presentation at the seminar for international students hosted by the Department. Isn’t it exciting? I really felt it was a good opportunity for me to share my experience of being an international student myself, the common issues that I faced, the assistance and help I got from my education provider and some other organisations.

So, I was there on the day, the seminar started. I listened to a guest speaker from the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority talking about education provider responsibilities. The President of Migration Institute of Australia then talked about what to expect from a migration agent and a policewoman gave us advice on how to be keep ourselves safe in this country.

The audience was quite active and kept asking questions after each speaker. Then it was my turn to do the presentation. I talked about my uni experience at La Trobe, the efforts I made to adjust to the living style, the totally different learning style and the driving style here. I mentioned various events I attended at La Trobe and in Melbourne, the student support and services I used at La Trobe, the Welcome Festival and orientation I have been through.

After the presentation, a group of students who had just arrived Melbourne asked me a lot of questions about the life in Melbourne, the accommodation, the restaurants, the job hunting, the counseling, the legal services and the volunteering jobs. Well, it was all about the student life here, and they did reminded me of my first six months, I was just like them, kept asking questions about everything. I was lucky at the time because I got the answers from some friends and support from the university. Now those students were lucky as well because they did get the support from the government. I sincerely hope they will enjoy life in Melbourne!

Today I planned to send a car to the RACV centre for checking and if everything was alright with that car, I would buy it and it would become my first car in Melbourne. I got up at 5.30am when it was still dark outside. One hour later, everything was ready; my friend was waiting for me in the car park.

This was the plan: we would pick up his mum and drive to Albert Park to pick up the car, then my friend would drive that car and his mum will follow us in her car all the way to the RACV inspection centre. We got there at 8:20am, ten minutes earlier than the opening time. I was nervous about the result, would it be good enough for me to buy it or not? My friend laughed at me and told me not to worry.

At 4.30 that afternoon we talked to the mechanic in the inspection centre based on the report. He told us that the summary of purchase recommendation was ‘cautious’ which means a certain amount of money would have to be spend on the car to fix the problem before I actually drive it safely on the road. Oh, no, I was disappointed when he told me this. The car had much lower kilometres compared to other similar cars, the price was very reasonable and affordable for me. I thought I was the RIGHT car for me—small, petrol saving, red color, reliable, however, the report was objective without even considering my feelings about this car.

The mechanic suggested that if I would like to buy this car, I would have to spend the other $1,500 to fix it properly. Otherwise, I could consider other cars, but more expensive than I had planned to spend. My friend advised me to raise my budget and buy a better car. Then all I need to do is look after my car and get the regular service for it. I had to admit that he was right, I should not buy this car even I have already liked it. So, bye, my first car, I was so close to get you. Keep trying, Sally, you will get a good one soon!

This week I attended the launch of ‘The Couch’. When I arrived at the venue, there was African music playing, it was very nice. The Lord Mayer, Robert Doyle, officiated the opening. In his speech he expressed his confidence that ‘The Couch’ will become a safe place that provides an opportunity for international students study, socialise, eat and receive a range of practical supports. The door was open to welcome everyone! The food smelt good—vegetable curry with rice, hot chocolate, nice coffee!

Many students gave table tennis looked a try. Chess game was quite competitive to me, so I was just observing at this stage, a movie was on to entertain the audience. I was planning to leave after a cup of hot chocolate, but my friend pushed me to enter the dance competition. So here I was, the ‘crazy dancing queen’. With the wild African music, I was dancing with the band, shaking the head, moving the legs, jumping on the floor and shaking my body. And in the end, I got it, one of the 5 top dancers, the prize was the original CD created by this band with their signatures. Wow, a special gift! I loved this space—The Couch, I will definitely come back!

23 July 2009

I heard about the Couch Program from the International Student Forum that I attended last month and I could not wait to attend its launch event.  At 4:30pm, I was waiting outside 69 Bourke Street with many other international students.

I chatted with several education providers and we all agreed that this International Student Centre would provide a safe space for international students studying, having dinner, watching television and meeting other students. During the event, I talked to Gary, the International Student and Youth Project Officer of City of Melbourne, who was responsible for the Couch Program. During our conversation, both of us thought that all the guests were young (most of them were younger than 20), and maybe we should also focus on the needs of mature international students (postgraduate) and provide them with tailored services such as career workshops, legal and immigration services. From the conversation, I could tell that he was very experienced in dealing with international students events.

Good news this week for all international students in Melbourne - the Victorian Government will commission the International Student Care Service, a one-stop, 24-hours available service for international students.

This service will provide advice, counselling and support services to international students, including those who are victims of crime or facing personal crisis. The service will complement existing services that are required of education providers. As an international student myself, I thought this was a very good initiative of the Victoria Government to give international students a safe and informative shelter to receive assistance. The Victorian Government was the first to make such a decision and hopefully it would become a good example for other state governments to address international students issues from the ground-level. I am looking forward to its official launch!

Today was my first day of the exploration at The National Gallery of Victoria and my friend was going to video tape me during the trip. AMAZING! We started from the magnificent entry. I was a little bit nervous in front of the camera, but only for a few seconds, when I saw the waterfall on the glass wall, I totally forgot the existence of the camera. Wow, could you imagine that—a whole huge glass wall with the waterfall falling down and you could touch the water! I played with the waterfall wall for quite a while, trying to paint the picture, write my name and draw my big smile on it. Then suddenly, my friend dragged me into the gallery. We crossed the hall, we were standing on the carpet under a colored glass ceiling.  We looked up and the ceiling looked like a gigantic rainbow hanging on the whole sky. We were talking and lying down facing the ceiling. I starred at the rainbow, speechless, I couldn’t even hear the kids playing and chasing around us, I felt peaceful and happy. I thought it was the amazing point of traveling - being a traveler gives you the privilege of forgetting everything that makes you unhappy and enjoy that moment, the moment that could not be described by words and you would never forget.

Back inside the museum, we decided to start from the top floor with ‘Persuasion: Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen’. I thought all my dressing fantasies came true here, the hat with feathers, the underwear, the outerwear, the fancy jewelries, and the elegant charming people wearing all those clothes. I instantly became a fan of Jane Austen novels; I met and talked to the characters in those novels.

Today was my two-year anniversary since landing in Melbourne. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in Carlton with a friend. The sunshine was beautiful, we looked at the people walking by, trying to guess their background and destination. Wow, two years, I still remembered the first day I landed. It was a cold winter day; I walked slowly outside the customs at Melbourne Airport, waiting for somebody to pick me up. The Go-to-Go bus driver’s smile warmed me and we started chatting even though my English was quite “Chiglish” and sometimes we could not understand each other.

Then the Welcome Festival for international students, the friends I made during this event were still my good friends now. Then uni, Graduate Diploma of Primary Education, tough but helpful teaching practicum in three different primary schools. Then I was elected as LUPA President and CAPA international student officer, a wonderful learning journey.  My part-time job as a Mandarin teacher and Mandarin surveyor. Master of Education, many classmates from different courtiers, I tried to learn greetings in different languages.

My friend was sitting there, listening to my story quietly, and drinking his favourite cappuccino. When I told him I was exhausted and really wanted a long holiday away from all these, he smiles and said, ‘Sally, everyday you have is special and different from other days, try to appreciate all of them. I guess you can take them as your holiday and you do not know what will happen tomorrow. Planning is good, however, put your planning in order of importance, tell yourself today I have those important and urgent goals to achieve, then the important and non-urgent or unimportant can be done later, it does not matter that much if you could not get everything done, as long as you have all those urgent and important things achieved…’ I looked at him, thinking he was right. Nobody is a superman and being able to do everything even sacrificing his health and sleeping time. It was really an issue of time management and attitude, knowing balance is essential. Appreciate small achievements could make life more encouraging. I ordered a cup of cappuccino too even though I am not a coffee drinker and I knew it would keep me awake for the whole night; but I did love the smell of it and today was my day off. Knowing balance, start from a day off, start from a cup of cappuccino…late at night, I was lying on my bed, listing my important and urgent goals for this month; I bet I would have a brand new start tomorrow…

9 July 2009

Bonfire day! When a friend asked me to join him for Bonfire, I was totally unfamiliar with this word – ‘bonfire’. He explained that every year people living in the countryside would collect all the unused things, such as branches, grass, rubbish, old magazines and paper (everything that needs to be thrown away) and put them on fire together. It used to be a very common thing, but nowadays you need a permit from the government to do that.

So we arrived at Werribee at 8.30pm and our host Jeff showed us a big pile of things destined for the Bonfire. Half an hour later, the fire started. My friend was helping Jeff to put all the branches into the fire and I was helping Jane to drag all the old pictures and albums out of her room. Wow, so many albums and the oldest ones were from the 60’s, I could tell from the colour of the pictures that they were old. Jane is going away for a three-month trip overseas very soon, and she wanted to clear her memory before before she started her journey. I thought this was good way to look forward to the future!

There were six cows there, all females and they looked so lovely and friendly. Jane even named two of them after chracaters from a movie—MaMa and MiYa. The cows were enjoying their food when the fire started but it seemed they did not care at all. I also helped Jane to look after her beautiful hens in the cage. They were beautiful and elegant and also very productive: they lay eggs almost every day.

My friend said that Jeff did something amazing—built a small water pool with nothing but his bare hands, but it took him nearly 20 years. I couldn’t believe it and I insisted to have a look at it. We walked towards Jeff’s property, passing the cows and some birds; we got to the small pool, set in stone and full with clear water. It felt so peaceful I didn’t want to leave.

Around midday we were enjoying the traditional farmer lunch-cheese sandwich under the warm sunshine. After that, we took Jane’s suggestion and went for a drive. We drove over to a port where we watched a lot of boats launching into the water and coming back from the sea. We were dreaming that one day we would have an expensive boat, join the club and go sailing every weekend! At sunset we drove back to Jane’s place and a delicious dinner was ready for us. Jane was talking about her travel plans all the time through dinner. At 10.30pm, the Bonfire was still on and we were chatting besides it over a cup of hot tea. It was good Australian experience.

As the International Student Officer of Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), I was invited to attend the International Student Forum hosted by the National Union of Students (NUS) and CAPA. The aim of this event was to explore the current international student experiences of social inclusion and student engagement with the communities in which they reside and study while pursuing their academic qualification in Australia. After the welcome speech by NUS National General Secretary, there was an icebreaking activity that required everyone to talk to 19 delegates and take their name down on the paper. Everybody seemed to enjoy this ‘walking around talking’.

Following up was the campus sharing workshop in which the participants got to know one another and gathered information on the structures and representations of international students representative bodies of each university. At 6.30pm, we listened to an inspirational speaker sharing his experiences as a student involved in student organisation.

During the second day sessions, I was quite impressed with the presentation given by Cherry Grimwade from the Team Leader Youth Policy and Programs. She outlined the international student initiatives delivered by the City of Melbourne and highlighted some of the new programs that are being developed to enhance the experience of international students during their stay in Melbourne. I have already decided to join the ‘Couch’ program in the future.

I was also one of the guest speakers and I gave a short presentation on the LUPA member base, representative capability and primary activities such as events, seminars, counselling, submission writing. I wasn’t nervous doing the presentation, instead I felt excited, and I guess the experience of being a student representative gave me confidence.

The last day of the Forum was more of an open discussion about how the future direction of international student representation may be based on the identification of current issues and needs. There was hot debating about the way to represent, to inform the representing body and how to run the representations. I quite loved the way people showed their opinions, we used a speaking list and time limits so that everyone had the opportunity to say something, such a democratic forum and so many inspirational ideas. Everyone was actively involved in this discussion.

At the end of the workshop, two working groups were formed for undergraduate and postgraduate international students. The two work groups had the task to assist both NUS and CAPA in facilitating effective and democratic international student representation across Australia.

At the end of the three days we all parted full of ideas and looking forward to the National Annual Conference in December.

25 June 2009

Last week a friend took me to an event called ‘Australia Women Students From Down Under Speak Out’ organised by the Women’s Features Service. I got an email from one of the journalists asking several questions relating to student life in Australia, such as why I chose La Trobe, how easy or difficult it has been for me to pursue studies in Australia and how does it differ from my own country, as a woman, do I feel safe here or do I have any concerns – discrimination/racism? My two years of Australia student life gave me a lot to say. I felt lucky that I had the opportunity to contribute my insights to this article. I am looking forward to the follow-up survey…

Today was my first time to take a driving lesson with a professional driving instructor. At 12pm sharp, a shining Toyota with L plates was waiting in the car park outside WaterDale Apartments. Mr Tang smiled at me and encouraged me to sit in the driver seat. After half an hour of brief introductions to the practical rules of driving, I started the car. ‘You just need to remember, whenever you start or stop the car, make turn or change line, you need to check the rear mirror, do the head check and put the indicator on.’ This is something new for me. When I was learning with my friend, they never even told me this, the rear mirror, head check, how can I do all of these at the same time? On the road, he gave the instructions just like the real road test, ‘turn left at the next cross’, ‘change the line, ‘turn right at the next roundabout’. I forgot to do the head check and the rear mirror almost every time, but he didn’t loose patience and he kept reminding me. One hour later, I was driving my car at 75 kilometres an hour along Plenty Road with sweaty hands. I have never been to the main road before and I had a good sense of achievement.

A lovely Scottish girl just moved into my flat. She is friendly, polite and talkative, even more talkative than me. After living in an Asian country for two years, she received a scholarship from La Trobe and came all the way here. Without much luggage, she finished unpacking very quickly. I think she must have spent the whole evening cleaning the bathroom and toilet, because when I came back they were shinning. Her next target was the kitchen. Two days later, the kitchen was very clean and I didn’t even want to cook in there because I was afraid that I would ruin it. We chatted over a hot chocolate a few times and I was very happy to listen to her story and experience. It’s lovely to have someone to chat to. Welcome, new flat mate, I hope you will enjoy your new life, new country, new culture and new friends!

I have just heard that Universities Australia has adopted a ten-point action plan for student safety from recommendations developed by the Deputy and Pro Vice-Chancellors (International) from Australian universities. I think that international students should find it encouraging that these issues are getting the attention they deserve. In response to this plan, La Trobe University Postgraduate Association (LUPA) organised a focus group regarding the attacks on Indian students and the summary based on the interview was quite good and informative. I also spoke to the President of Australian Council of Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and he was quite interested in our focus group and decided to include the summary of this focus group into CAPA’s latest media release.

As follow up of this action plan the LUPA office addressed a letter to call for action to other postgraduate associations and postgraduate students. We are waiting for positive feedback and good idea. LUPA is also still working closely with the Graduate Student Association of Melbourne University on the travel concession for international students campaign.

11 June 2009

I was standing in front of the box, holding my last assignment. Very carefully, I put it in the box…done! I was free from Uni this semester, I can't say how relieved and relaxed I felt!

Today was also the last session of the unit and we organised a small party. At 7pm, all the classmates arrived at the function room with snacks or food of their own countries. The food was delicious, it was a feast. Some girls cooked Halal food which tasted like heaven with the lamb on top of rice (rice was mixed with various spices). People were chatting around, taking photos and exchange contact numbers. Bye, my fellow classmates, it was so nice to have all of you sharing the research ideas and opinions in the last several months!

I finally took my online knowledge test for Australian Driving Licence. I have already practiced many, maybe 50 sample tests online, but still I made a few mistakes. I wrote down the questions that I always got wrong and tried to remember the correct answer.  At 2.20pm, I arrived at the test venue. The receptionist checked the necessary document and told me to sit on number 40 computer to do my test. I felt very nervous sitting there. The questions looked very familiar because I have practiced them all. 10 minutes later, I finished the test and came back to the reception desk. The receptionist smiled and said, ‘congratulations, you have got one hundred percent right and all you need to do is come back to sit the hazard test and road test in order to transfer  your Chinese licence to an Australian one.’ I was very happy.

After the test, I headed to my friend’s house where a small party for Chinese Dragon Boat Festival will start from 5pm. We were supposed to make ‘Zong Zi’, the sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves that is traditionally eaten during the festival, but none of us really knew how to make it, so we settled for dumplings. The menu was: dumpling, drumstick and pasta - an amazing combination of Chinese and western food. Everyone was helping making the dumplings, including two non-Chinese friends. It was first time for both of them to make dumplings. At first, we just showed them how to do it step by step, because they always missed something; however, after half an hour practice, they became quite confident, even the shape of the dumplings they made was better than the ones we made.

I recently enjoyed my first live concert in Melbourne. I was excited in the car already. The Concert Hall was crowded with the audience. We got a very good spot - just ten metres away from the stage. The performance featured a wide variety of music, such as ‘Over the Rainbow’, ‘Come Fly with Me’ and ‘High Society’ etc. My favourite was the song “I’ve Got You under My Skin”. It was a good night.

02 June 2009

Recently I got a phone call from a friend who just came back from a holiday in Bali and I could tell from his voice that he was still in a good holiday mood. Five minutes later we were sharing a pizza and I was listening to his Bali stories. It sounds like a heavenly place: no pressure, no work, no cold weather, all you need to do is to relax. I got a small gift from him, a nice paper fan made in Bali.

I am a big fan of public lectures. This time was not an exception. I just attended a public lecture at La Trobe where the guest speakers were Dr Cobus de Swardt and Tim Costello. As the Managing Director of Transparency International, Dr Cobus shared his experience and opinions of tougher international action against global corruption. He said that if it was not because of social justice, he would not be alive today and he might be still in the jail of South Africa. Tim Costello, Chief Executive of World Vision Australia also presented his own say regarding this global issue. There were quite a few interesting questions and it was a pity that the public lecture was only one hour.

Gym night! I always believed that people who exercise have positive attitudes and insistency in achieving their goals. I try to be one of them…I went to the La Trobe Sport Centre at around 6pm; the treadmill is always my first destination. One hour of treadmill is very challenging, but for me even half an hour will do. When I get really tired, I look around my gym buddies and talk to my self, ‘keep going, only 30 more minutes to go, then you can walk around and drink water, keep going!’ I think it was a self-encouragement and it worked in most cases. For the last one hour, I focused on ‘Sally’s Yoga’ - deep and regular breath, meditation, lotus position, stretching my body. I was the last person to leave the gym, but with a totally refreshed mind and body. I am looking forward to tomorrow!

13 May 2009

The last couple of weeks I was involved in all types of programs.

The Ready Set Go! seminar program series was organised by La Trobe International. Former international students who are currently working at La Trobe were invited to talk about their life when they were final year students. Other guest speakers covered the topic of preparing yourself for entering Australian workforce, applying for Skilled Migration Visas and preparing for the IELTS test. All these information sessions helped final year students to equip themselves for the next stage of their journey. This program also had a follow-up survey to get the immediate feedback from the participants which was quite good.

The other day I had a lunch meeting with the Peer Mentoring Program organised by Student Engagement and I found out that everyone was very active and they had a lot to say. We came up with many ideas about how to match the mentor and the student, in which aspects should the mentors help the student, how frequent should they meet up, etc. 

This week I went to the launch of the program held at the Odeon Hall. It was full of students and professionals from different backgrounds. The aims of this program are to expand the students’ understanding of the world of work, to aid the students’ career development process and to enable them to network with and learn from professionals. I enrolled in the program and during this event we were supposed to meet our mentors for the first time. One of the mentors made a joke, ‘it is like a blind date’. We were all a little bit nervous about the matching and mine was a nice lady with a sweet smile. We sat down and had a very nice talk. We exchanged contact details and made an appointment to chat over coffee very soon, then I gave her a huge hug to say goodbye. I already love this program!

Driving lessons continuing…I bought a ‘learner’ plate today, a friend suggested that and I have been practicing on how to reverse, parallel parking, how to keep the car driving straight, how to turn left and right.

Today I called back home. My mum picked up the phone and I wished her Happy Mother’s Day. I could tell from her voice how happy she was to hear me. My older brother took her to a forest park which is 20 kilometers from Beijing and they spent the whole day in the beautiful natural place hiking. Then they went to a local resident’s home to enjoy the natural food there. Yummy…I really wished that I was there with my mum. At that moment, I missed Beijing and sweet home so much….

30 April 2009

Two weeks ago I got a call from a Chinese friend who last year decided to return to China. He told me he has now come to live in Melbourne. It was really good news to have an old friend of mine back. I can’t wait to celebrate his return.

At the beginning of April, I was the MC of the Orientation for postgraduate students organised by the Research and Graduate Studies Office (RGSO) and La Trobe University Postgraduate Association(LUPA). Eighty-four students attended and they received advice and suggestions from representatives from all the University areas.

Movie night last weekend for me. My friend suggested to go see Knowing. We didn’t know the timetable so we just turned up at Melbourne Central and we were lucky to find tickets. It was a science fiction film with Nicholas Cage. Some of the scenes were shot in Melbourne at Southbank and Carlton. The ending of the film was quite unexpected, but full of hope as well.

Recently I started practicing my driving under the instruction of my experienced friends and I am really enjoying it. Last weekend I practiced driving an automatic car for the first time. My training field was car park 8 at La Trobe, in the weekend when it was nearly empty (except for other novices like me). It was so much easier to drive than the manual car. I got so good with practice that I even drove home. My next lesson in the automatic car was in the evening, but I only practiced parking, because I was too tired. The third lesson is very soon…cannot wait!

2 April 2009

Last Saturday to me was a relaxing work day. I had a long meeting with the President of Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and we talked about the public transport concession for postgraduate students. We think a national campaign is necessary to fight for this right. We decided that our first step was to set up an online petition to gain as much support as possible.

I suggested that international students could be involved as well, in order to get more support. The trial online petition looks good, all we need to do is gather some information about the regulation in other states. Our meeting ended up with dinner in a Thai restaurant, enjoying a beef salad and duck...yummy!

Just before I was practicing my host speech as MC for the 2009 Research Postgraduate Orientation Program. My friend helped me to write it. At first, I wasn't really sure about hosting a big event in English. My friend tried to show me a different way of introducing and thanking the guest speakers: no overthanking the speakers, this is not appropriate in English speaking countries!

Tuesday was a long day with plenty of meetings. LUPA committee meeting started at 3pm, the meeting went smooth and we focused on how to improve LUPA's presentation. The meeting was followed by an afternoon tea, during which I had a conversation with the President of Student Representative Council (SRC) and we agreed that we should cooperate more when it comes to student events in the future.

On Thursday both of the West Lecture Theatres at La Trobe were full of people who were keen to enjoy the public lecture by H. E. Sayed Mohammed Khatami, the Former President of Iran (1997-2005). It was my first time witnessing a live speech by such an important politician and leader. Although I got there twenty minutes early, I could not find any seat available. I chose a place near the wall and sat down on the carpet. Here he was, the passionate speaker! Although he spoke in another language and counted on the interpreter to get the information across, I could still feel his enthusiasm, wisdom and a good sense of humour. ‘Dialogue: only Path to Peace' was the title of his lecture. I really enjoyed his speech and tried to write down some notes about his opinions. An answering questions session followed his speech and the audience poured him with a lot of questions and he answered in a wisely and humorous way. Two hours just passed by without any notice. After the speech I met several classmates and we all discussed how amazing the speech was and we couldn't believe how lucky we were to have witnessed it.

18 March 2009

This Sunday was a festival day - I attended two festivals in one day, tight schedule. 10:30 am in the car, I saw a giant kite flying over Edwards Lake Park, a lovely teddy bear and his delicious barrel of honey. 2009 Darebin Community and Kite Festival attracted many people to come along to one of Darebin's most interesting parks-Edwards Lake Park. 10:40, I was standing on the big running ground trying to pick my favorite kites in the sky. It was really difficult to choose because every single one of them was special and unique-different color, shape and design. So I decided that I would make the decision later on.

Another highlight of this festival was the ‘living libraries'. I was very interested in this: ‘borrow a book with a difference'. Then I saw a billboard with people's smiling faces, one of the librarians there told me that all these people on the billboard were their living books and that I could book 10 to 15 minutes talking to these ‘books'. Wow, I have never heard about this before - borrow a person and chat with them.

The first book I borrowed was a commander in the firefighter force. He told me about something he and his team had done to protect people and their properties. We talked about the possibility of him being our guest in the radio program. My second book was a lovely person who worked at La Trobe. He had traveled a lot and he had been a secondary school teacher for quite a long time. I was impressed by his big smile and his positive attitude towards life. We decided that we should catch up on campus in the future.

12:30pm, we were on our way to Federation Square for the International Student Welcome Festival organised by Melbourne City. Bush Band was on the stage when we arrived there, the female singer's skirt was very interesting - it had a rainbow on it! The MC made an announcement: ‘everyone please come to the front and follow the instructions of the volunteers, we are going to become a human map of Australia which will be photographed by a helicopter five minutes later and be made into a postcard and sent to you!' Wow, a helicopter, a human map of Australia, I want to be part of it! I got excited and pushed my way to the middle of the map. All we need to do now is wait for this unique postcard!

4 March 2009

At the end of January I attended the Chinese New Year Festival at St Luke's Church Hall, Lalor. As one of the MC's of the event, I arrived at the venue at 10am, all dressed up and excited. The festival was hosted in two languages - English and Mandarin. I was the Mandarin MC. The Mayor and other politicians attended, and representatives of the General Consulate of China  gave a speech during the festival.

There were lots of bands, musicians, performers and community groups participating. The Victoria Police Band performed at the festival and they were terrific. I would say they were the best performance. The Chinese Lion Dance was also a highlight. I thought that the event was a success and it celebrated multiculturalism through art, business, children's activities, craft, culture, dancing, education, fashion parades and food demonstration.

Recently one of my friends asked me what I was going to do this Saturday. I said I had nothing planned (which is really unusual for me), and he said he will make plans for me to try something new. And I am always open to something new.

So on Saturday he picked me up from my place. We had three missions to achieve that day and he was almost certain they were all things that I had never done before in Melbourne. We agreed that if I had done any of these activities, we would cancel it. We drove into the city and we parked the car next to a very tall building. I found out it was the Eureka tower - the highest building in the southern hemisphere. It was impressive: all the beautiful places in Melbourne were in front of us! We bought two tickets for ‘the edge' (I agreed as I didn't know what the edge was). It is a transparent glass cube that moves out and away from the building. It feels like you're floating in the air, all the walls and floor are transparent and we could see our car under our feet. I got a bracelet saying ‘I survived the edge' - I thought it was necessary.

Next we went to a Thai restaurant in Brunswick Street. They say Melbourne has beautiful Thai food, but I can't say I have really tried it. This was my chance and I really enjoyed it. All the dishes were exquisite and we were sitting comfortably on the floor, stretching our legs.

After the dinner, we headed to the movies, but not in the traditional way - we went to a drive-in theatre. We got popcorn, drinks, a blanket, soft pillows, shoes off. Wow, it was very comfortable! Much better than the normal movie theatres. After midnight my Melbourne adventure ended and we slowly drove home. Good night, wonderful Saturday adventure

18 February 2009

Excursion day! Two Sundays ago, in the afternoon I met an Australian friend for drinks at a coffee shop in Ivanhoe. It was beautiful weather, warm but not hot, and the sun was not too strong. We went for a walk along the river in Warrandyte Park, where my friend used to row years ago. They say there are koalas in the park, but as much as I tried finding one, I couldn't. What I did see was a snake hole in the dry creek bed just near the bridge we were standing on. The snake came out of the hole and started sliding towards us, it stopped and looked at us for a while, but then it decided to go the other way.

In January, the Melbourne community gathered to celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Ox, hosted by the Chinese Consulate in Melbourne. The celebration started with Chinese traditional music and ‘dancing lions' in front of the Town Hall. The Deputy General Consul made a speech about the warm relations between Australia and China and everyone clapped. I walked around with a cold drink and ran into many of my friends. It was a very nice feeling - running into all these people that made my stay in Melbourne so enjoyable. We exchanged our best wishes for the New Year and watched the rest of the performances. I also made some new friends, a very diverse range of people - some scientists, some scholars, others working for the Chinese Consulate. I even got the opportunity to chat to the general consul and its colleagues. They all encouraged me to keep trying hard to achieve my goals in Melbourne. I felt like I was at home.

Australia Day fell on the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year, so it was a double opportunity to celebrate. To mark the double occasion, the Arts Centre presented New Gold Mountain - a series of performances and cultural displays celebrating Chinese Australian Heritage, culture and experience over the past 150 years. Me and my friends went to the city to attend the Arts Centre celebrations. We attended a beautiful Chinese tea performance and we took photos. After that, we stayed and watched the Chinese traditional dance and songs. I was there with an Australian friend, who had never seen a Chinese performance before and he was totally captivated by it.

As we were standing watching the performances, we noticed a big human shade beside us. It was a gigantic Chinese Fortune God - Cai Shen. He attracted a big crowd, people were queuing around him in order to take pictures. We did the same.

Later we moved on to a noodle making demonstration. The person demonstrating was changing the flower powder into thousands of tiny noodles. The audience was totally conquered by his performance. Everyone was trying to get a string of noodle when it was offered. I got one too...handmade noodle.

The Chinese martial arts were no less of an attraction. The amazing part was that more than half of the masters were Australians who truly fell in love with Chinese martial arts and put a great effort into practicing them and demonstrating them. I was really surprised, I didn't think that non-Chinese people can demonstrate so well.

In the evening we went to celebrate the Chinese New Year's Eve dinner at one of my friends. My Australian friend has never tried this before and he was very excited.  The host was an amazing cook and everything smelt so good. All the guests were offering help, but he said: ‘No, you are guests, so you won't have to do any work, just relax and enjoy!'. And soon, we all had other things to worry about. Most guests were trying to teach my friend how to play Chinese cards. Actually, we were teaching each other, he taught us some English poker words and we taught him how to play. He learned very quickly and we promised that if the progress continues, he will be accepted into our Chinese cards team.

Before we started eating, we took photos of all the delicious dishes, as the Chinese tradition goes. We enjoyed the food and we were not allowed to do the dished. I hope I will be invited to more dinners like that in the future.

15 January 2009

The 24 December morning was sunny and beautiful. I was sitting comfortably in the radio studio. Michael and Dan were the hosts of a seventeen-hour programme and they made a lot of jokes while they were broadcasting. Dan suggested that I teach them and the audience how to say "Merry Christmas" in Mandarin. It wasn't as easy as they thought, but with the help of my hands (I demonstrated the horizontal, rising and falling tones with my hand) they were able to greet the audience with a "Merry Christmas" in perfect Mandarin. Michael and Dan prepared some questions to interview us,  the last question was very interesting, "what did I want most for Christmas?" I said I wanted something unexpected, something that would surprise me. Then at the end of the show, Dan gave us candies and two movie tickets. And that was a great surprise.

On Christmas day, in the evening, I played pool with some friends in the entertainment room of the University Lodge. As I am a beginner at this game, everyone was better than me, so they really enjoyed it. All of them were teaching me how to play, but I am really bad at mathematics, so I got some of my teachers impatient. For them, one game usually takes ten minutes, but in my case, it was half an hour or even more. My record (up to now) is one hour.

Later we had a traditional Christmas dinner cooked by the resident assistant at the Lodge. We had turkey, chicken, salad, wine and cake. I joined the cleaning up team after dinner and it didn't take us long to get everything done. Christmas night was wonderful, the boys started play football in the entertainment room and we girls went outside to avoid being hit by the ball. It was so nice for me to have friends around for Christmas, especially now when I'm away from home.  

New Year's Eve was party night! A friend picked me up from uni lodge and we drove all the way to South Melbourne to pick up another friend of his. Then we headed towards East Melbourne, our final destination. It was a masque party and his friend prepared some masques for us. Wow, we looked so cool with the masques! I do not know how many people attended the party and what did they look like, all I know is that we had a great time. Just before midnight, we left the party and walked down to Brandon Beach, waiting for the fireworks. Countless colourful spirits flying in the air! We were standing on the beach, smelling the sea, letting the wind touch our hair, our face, watching the firework at 15 kilometres away from CBD. Happy New Year! We hugged, we kissed, and we exchanged our best wishes! For everyone that has New Year's resolutions, keep trying hard, keep making efforts, you will achieve them sooner or later! Good luck for 2009!

22 December 2008

Last week I had a meeting with the Pro-Vice Chancellor regarding the services and plans of the La Trobe University Postgraduate Association (LUPA) for 2009. He showed great support for our association and he was impressed with our services, activities and plans. We also talked about students' representation, advocacy services and other social activities that we are planning for 2009. I found that this year I had a lot of meetings on behalf of LUPA, which can be time consuming, but I really enjoyed it.

Today is Friday -  my broadcasting evening. I started this volunteer broadcasting job one month ago and I find it really fun. It is a two-hour bilingual program, one hour Mandarin and one hour English. You can have your say in the discussion section, you can interview people by phone and listen to their stories, you can have your voice heard by people that haven't met you. It is amazing - such a strong medium! For Christmas, we will have a program that will last seventeen hours and I will be one of the volunteers who will greet the audience in Mandarin. I am looking forward to it.

Another activity I am keen to attend is the Christmas Eve Lunch for all the residents in the University Lodge. I have only been in the lodge for one week and I think it is a good opportunity to make more friends. I talked to one of the residential assistants and he said it might be possible to organise a dance party on Christmas Eve. It would be so much fun. I am already sure I will enjoy living here.

11 December 2008

Last week I ran the La Trobe University Postgraduate Association's (LUPA) last committee meeting. It was very short and we discussed purchasing new computers and a fridge for our association. All the committee members agreed that LUPA needs to update the office equipments as soon as possible in order to work efficiently. After the meeting, we had Christmas lunch at the Glenn College. Other friends also joined the lunch and I found that it was a good opportunity to get to know more about the committee members - their hobbies, interests, their goals in life. We all enjoyed each other's company and we didn't want to go home at the end.

Last week I attended the annual meeting of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA). It was my first time attending the national conference on behalf of LUPA. I was nervous, excited, curious, all at the same time. But I found all the delegates very friendly and easy-going. I have already known many of them, although sometimes I could not remember their names. I sat next to a delegate from Tasmania University and we talked about the possibility of organising trips to Tasmania in the semester break next year.

During the meeting, I was nominated as an international student officer in CAPA. I wasn't so sure if it was the right thing for me to do -  to have more responsibility and maybe not enough time to dedicate to this activity. But my new found Tasmanian friend convinced me that since I am so interested in the activities of the students associations and I like to keep really busy, I would be able to manage being involved in both associations. There was a small election for this role, which resulted in a tie between me and another candidate. In the end, we decided we would share the responsibility of supporting postgraduate international students in Australia and I have to say I was relieved by this decision.

After three days at the conference, I got to know everyone quite well and I enjoyed their company.