Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer is Coming – October-November 2012


My life has settled into a routine that’s keeping me pretty busy.  I have to be at work before 8:00 every day.  I teach until 2:30, then spend my afternoon and much of my evening preparing for future classes.  Since I don’t like teaching when tired, I’m also trying to get to bed at a decent time.  The result is that I’m working eleven hours a day, sleeping nine hours a night, and not finding time for much else.

Weekends have been largely devoted to shopping and cooking, but I’m trying to work some extra-curricular activities in too.  In October I went to the “Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb” exhibit at the Queensland Museum.  The exhibit was overpriced for its size; it certainly wasn’t the British Museum or Tutankhamen’s tomb.  It was also dominated by a video presentation that took almost as much time as the artefacts did.  It was nice in that it gave some context for what we would be seeing; unfortunately few of the articles on display were actually from the burial site discussed.

In November I decided to find out if anyone in Brisbane plays Dungeons & Dragons, and discovered a group that meets on Sunday afternoons.  They run different types of campaigns, not all of which are open, but I’ve been going to the ones I can.  I’m still very much a novice, and it’s not always easy to keep up with the other players, but they’ve been understanding.  It’s nice to be playing without a language barrier, and I find it makes role-playing in particular much easier.  As a sign of my commitment to the game, I’ve even bought my own dice!  They’re shiny and blue.  So pretty…

I’ve been to a few different churches now, but have mostly been frequenting the Lutheran church near my house and the Anglican cathedral down town.  The former is smaller and friendlier, but the latter has a more familiar service style.  I’ve also finally learned of a swing dancing group not far from where I work.  I’m now trying to learn the lead’s part in Lindy-Hop, but I’m finding it very dizzying!

The weather’s getting pretty hot here.  It definitely feels like summer, and I can only imagine what it’ll be like when summer really arrives!  We’ve also been getting a lot more rain than when I arrived.  We’re heading into storm season now, and one weekend I was stunned to look outside and see what looked like a hurricane!  It passed as quickly as it started, but it was pretty scary while it lasted!  Fortunately, most of the rain we’ve gotten has been the safe kind that waters the plants and makes everything brighter.  The grass is much greener now, and the trees have blossomed in a variety of colours, including purple jacaranda blooms.

One morning I awoke to a strangely dusky light, as though the sun were on a dimmer.  I recognised the effect from a few months earlier, and immediately realised that it was eclipse day in the southern hemisphere.  The total version of this eclipse happened in northern Queensland, and if I’d had time or money to fly up to Cairns, I could have seen it.  I’d been so caught up with work, however, that I didn’t even bother to go looking for eclipse glasses.  I think it will have to go on my bucket list: before I die, I want to watch a solar eclipse happening.

Despite taking up most of my time, work has been good.  I like my students, my co-workers, and the movies I sometimes get to supervise during morning break.  One of the other teachers showed me how to use the coffee maker, so now I can get my afternoon caffeine shot as needed.  It’s not like the coffee machines I’m used to; apparently coffee in Australia only comes in swanky varieties.  They give them funny names, too: “flat white”, “long black”, etc.  So… which one is a latte???

I’m not the only foreigner among the staff.  I have co-workers with American, New Zealand, and even Scottish accents, leading to many geeky dissections of the pronunciation guide in our U.K.-produced textbooks.  I’ve noticed that not even my Australian co-workers sound as Australian as one might expect.  I had an idea in my head of what an Aussies should sound like – think Julia Gillard – but most of them don’t have accents nearly that thick.  At least not in Brisbane.

On the flip side, I’ve been amazed by how many people here have said to me “From your accent, I’m guessing you’re… Canadian?”  Since my accent can’t be nearly that distinctive, I can only assume that Australians know we don’t like being mistaken for Americans, and are erring on the side of caution.  I’m not big on the self-righteous distancing so many of my compatriots love to do, bit it’s nice to see foreigners showing some cultural sensitivity.

In November my school celebrated Melbourne Cup day.  That’s the day of a big horse race in Melbourne.  Apparently horse racing is a thing here, and the students were encouraged to dress up, place bets, and cheer for their favourite horse.  The most enjoyment I’ve ever gotten out of a horse race was watching the Ascot sequence in My Fair Lady, so I completely failed to inspire my students with this event, or even to explain it.  It was a cultural experience as much for me as for them.

I taught my class for ten weeks, and it’s been one of the best work experiences of my life so far.  October was stressful, as I worked overtime to stretch four weeks’ worth of material out to six, but then I readjusted my schedule, and planning became much easier.  I had some great students in my class, and I really feel that the effort I made as a teacher paid off in both learning and class enjoyment.

Sadly, December will mean fewer classes, and I’m losing mine to another teacher.  My bosses have given me positive reviews, and have promised to keep me on the sub-list, so a new position may well open up in the new year.  For now, the timing is actually quite convenient; it means I’ll be free to travel and enjoy a long Christmas vacation.

When I told my students I was leaving, they suggested a party, which we held on Friday afternoon.  We had cake and snacks and drinks.  We played music and took pictures.  My students wrote me a “Thank You” card and even gave me presents, a gesture I found very touching.  It’s nice to feel appreciated for a change, but it’s even more gratifying to feel that I really have been a good teacher, and have earned the respect and affection of my students.

In the evening, they invited me along to a goodbye dinner for one of the Korean students.  It was held in a mixed Asian restaurant by my favourite Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese students.  I was the only white person there, but I’m used to that, and the mix of nationalities meant that most people spoke in English.  I’m glad I got a chance to hang out with them outside of school.  I hope when I get back to Canada I can find a job that’s just as good with students who are just as awesome!

I’ve had two interesting pieces of news from back home.  Firstly, one of my buddies from Ottawa is engaged.  She’s not getting married for another year and a half, though, by which time I should definitely be back in the country.  Second-, and more excitingly, one of my friends is having a baby!  E’s due in the spring, most likely before I get home, but since I plan to return shortly thereafter, I should get a chance to meet em fairly soon.  And if I was having any doubts about returning home, this had definitely made up my mind: what better incentive could there be than a new baby?!!

In the news this month, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the United States, doing massive damage to the eastern seaboard and especially to New York.  A few of my co-workers expressed concern for me, asking whether any of my family were in the affected area.  Fortunately it looks as though things haven’t been that bad in Ontario, and everyone I know is safe.

Also out of the U.S., Barack Obama has been re-elected and will continue as president for another four years.

Movies I’ve seen this season:

Shall We Dance? – An unusually sweet and down-to-earth movie about a middle-aged lawyer who recaptures his joie de vivre through ballroom dancing.  It wasn’t till the credits that I remembered it was a remake of a Japanese movie, and with a single exception, the story makes the cultural transition quite successfully.  Still, it does seem in retrospect like a tale far too charming to have been dreamed up by an American.  I’ll have to see the original some time.  (Three stars)

Books I’ve read this season:

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie – I re-read this mostly so I could improve the TV Tropes page.  Still enjoyed every bit of it!