30 October 2009

First Week in Galway

My first week in Galway has been busy, and interesting, and overwhelming, and incredibly exhausting.

Galway is very cloudy, and I am told that now we won't see they sky again until March. It is also quite rainy, but I am told that it has not really rained yet.

University here is completely different to what I am used to. Things are very un-organised. Or perhaps you would just call it laid back. There is definately less structure. I don't have to do any health and safety training nor any inductions to the labs and equipment. Things are just kept wherevery and we don't have all our chemicals lined up according to class. The way Honours is done is very different to what I did last year, and the undergraduate Zoology degree here is also very different to what I have done.

The city is also very different to any that I have seen before. The streets are narrow and windy, for some reason there is terrible traffic. The city centre is nice, there is a pedestrian area which cars cannot go down, the streets are paving stones not concrete, and everything is very close together. There are wee alleyways to get between some streets. I was there on Saturday and it was so very market-like, with buskers and stalls and a lot of people. There are some really nice looking shops. I will have to be so careful when I begin to make money to not just spend it all. There were also a couple of beggers though, something I have never seen anywhere that I have so far travelled, just sitting there with their hands out waiting for coins.

Speaking of coins the money here is also crazy and will take a lot of getting used to. The paper money is definately not as nice as New Zealand's or even most other countries' that I have visited - it is very plain, not at all pretty. Doesn't have all the nice pictures and colours. And there are so many coins, they have all the usual ones but also 5c, 2c and 1c. And we don't even have 5c in NZ! It makes for an awful lot of change in your wallet.

It is raining again now, I definately have to get an umbrella.

27 October 2009

First Day at Uni

Today was my first day at Uni. I arrived on time (I found out yesterday that I was living in the wrong time zone, sometime after I arrived daylight savings ended or something like that. I was living an hour ahead). I met my supervisor, and we began to go through all the paperwork. So after filling out and signing some forms I went to get registered and get a bank account. I mostly got registered but needed to get a photo for my id card. I forgot to take my passport with me so the bank account had to wait.

I went on a tour of the new sports building because Anne-Marie, my supervisor, had been invited on one. It is called the Kingfisher club, and is right on campus and is real fancy. It has a nice pool and all these classes to go to. If you join the pool is free and some of the classes, and they give you some sort of personal fitness plan. Maybe I will join when I start getting paid. The pool looks good.

Anyway after that I went home to get the things I needed for the bank account. I go back to the bank (and it is a 25 minute walk from my place to uni) and the bank tells me I need proof of my address from the admissions office. That is ok because I still needed to get my student id so I go back to registration and do that and they tell me that admissions is on the ground floor. I go down there, and this time I don't have to wait in a line which is good, and they tell me that they don't give out letters with your address on them! So they tell me to go to International affairs. I considered just going back to the Martin Ryan Institute at this point because the bank said that a letter from the head of department would do. But Heads of Departments are generally busy so I went to International affairs (luckily after having a walk round yesterday I had already found all these buildings).

Finally International affairs was really helpful. I was intending to go there anyway. They gave me an info pack and someone came to talk to me, I assume some sort of adjustment counsellor or liason officer. I'm not sure who she was actually. And they gave me a letter for the bank, and one for social security, and one for immigration. And a map. So finally I was ready to go back to the bank.

And when I got to the bank it was finally all nice and quick. I got an account, and entered some draw to win and ipod of some sort. And by now I was so exhausted. I went back to the Martin Ryan Institute where we finished filling in forms and now all of that is sorted. There is more to do though, and tomorrow the work starts. Today I had a look at the cultures, which are the barnacles we are keeping alive. I will take a picture for you tomorrow. And I had a look as Paul, the other PhD working on bioadhesion, did some histology. He is only just beginning to learn that stuff so I am not really very behind. And then I went home, because I still had more to sort out here. Tomorrow I will be given some reading to do, and will continue to shadow the other members of my lab. I have to get a social security number too, even though I don't have to pay tax.

So I came back to DunAras and finally the office was open. I am now connected to the internet, and got the man behind the desk (not actually sure who he is) to come help me with some things. Got a new jug cos the other was full of brown gunk. He showed me how to lock the balcony door (these things are so simple once you know how) and how to work the heaters properly and stuff like that. I forgot to point out that the fridge seals are stuffed, will have to do that tomorrow because it just leaks water everywhere. And I think maybe the tv doesn't work. Maybe once again I am just not using it right.

All in all it was a hectic day but I got a lot done. I still have more to do and it is getting late. Today I learnt that the weather this last weekend is actually not the norm, a storm blew up before I arrived on Saturday and all this wind and rain (and the real bad turbulence landing) is the aftermath of that. And I learnt that despite looking so new the Martin Ryan Institute is about 15 years old. Goose barnacles are far more interesting than acorn barnacles. I guess soon I will have to tell you all about my project so that everybody has a rough idea of what I am doing.

First Days in Galway

So far Galway is cloudy, wet and windy. But I was always expecting it to be pretty similar to Invercargill.

While it doesn't feel that different to be here, at the same time everything is very different. For one thing the houses and buildings are built very differently here than in NZ. It looks like British television and movies, which I know sounds pretty obvious but it will still take some getting used to. All the buildings are built in rows, all stuck together and looking the same. They call them housing-complexes. The roads are sometimes very narrow and windy, some with cobblestones, and there are stone walls all over the place.

There is a lot of grass and trees, which is nice, and most looks similar to NZ. Except when you see a large expanse of it, foresty stuff, it looks completely different to our bush and forest. You can't really describe how it is different, but there is absolutely no mistaking it. Does it look different? Or does it feel different? I can't figure it out. I haven't taken a photo of it yet to show you.

The footpaths in the city centre are very narrow, and the roads small and windy, very different to Invers, all spaced out and square. Also, despite the fact that it is wet and rainy here the shop fronts don't all have verandahs overhanging them, very unlike Invercargill. But in saying that, I guess it is all because it is a lot older here.

There are a lot of cars on the roads and a lot of people wandering the streets, but that could just be because it is a public holiday weekend. There are a lot of people out walking and taking photos of things so I fit right in. There is a lot to take photos of. There are big old buildings everywhere, like this great stone cathedral. I would like to go in one, to see what it looks like from the inside. But I don't want to just wander in, they take their religion very seriously here.

And it is only a short walk to the harbour, which was nice despite the unending overcast-ness. There are islands out in the water, they were all misty with rain. And a lot of sea birds hanging around for food, obviously they are well used to being fed, they seemed very tame. There were these great white swans just sitting up on the sidewalk amongst the people. And they are a lot bigger than swans I have seen in NZ. And when they fly you can hear their wings beating. Also the seagulls here look a bit different, they have black spots on their heads.

I haven't seen much of the city centre yet, I wandered through but it was starting to rain so I just headed home instead. I found the University and had a look around so that I know where I am going tomorrow. It is hard to say how big it is. I think it might be smaller than Otago. The Martin Ryan Institute, where I will be working, looks brand new.

23 October 2009

Went to the Zoo today

The zoo in Al Ain is currently under construction - as is everything else in this country, only unlike all the buildings that they put up it is going very slow. After this multi-billion dirham rennovation is over it will be the Al Ain Wildlife Resort, some sort of very expensive something with hotels, apartment buildings and I don't know what. Only being in Abu Dhabi it is all advertised as if it is already there. It is not already there, for all the advertisement it is still almost the same as it was when I was there two years ago. Although there are some new additions. There is a whole new big cat enclosure and it is quite nice. A lot of lions there, some pumas. Only one tiger. And apparently bears but we didn't see any. Wrong climate though so they were probably all hiding asleep somewhere.

There is an Arabian enclosure and a large African area. There is going to be more desert area eventually and what they call an African Safari. There are huge vultures and eagles in a large enclosure labelled peacocks. But at the same time >some of the old enclosures are still there, for instance the ape-house is quite old, and it is not very nice. There are chimps and orangutangs there, and while they have quite a lot to play with there is no grass and trees, just concrete.

The thing about the new development is that while it is called a conservation park and they are making a great big conservation/breeding programme centre, really it is all about money. This resort will be complexes of apartments and hotels, restaurants, spas, all with a 'wildlife conservation' theme. But really it is not much better than the Atlantis resort. It will be a little better but only because it was a zoo first and resort second. Atlantis on the other hand says that it is rescuing marine wildlife, but really they have gone out and caught wildlife such as the dolphins that they now keep in their artificial lagoons and the sharks in their great big aquarium. It is not about conservation, it's far more about tourism.

It was the right time of year here in UAE to go to the zoo though. Baby animals! Baby deer, baby meercats. A really cute baby monkey that came over and poked it's face through the fence at me. And there where some cute capuchin monkeys and this family had been feeding them popcorn, throwing it near the fence and the monkey's would poke their hands through and take it. Then the security man cam and told them off and crushed all the popcorn onto the sand so that the monkeys couldn't get it. And of course the family played ignorant but there are signs everywhere saying don't feed the animals.

Then there was the aviary, the really big sort where you can walk inside. And ofe course it has double doors, where you walk through one, let it close and then go through the other and no birds get out. Only the springs that close the doors don't seem to work very well because all the doors were open. And on top of the aviary was a great big bird, I think maybe some sort of pelican. And it looks like he has just wandered out of those open doors and made his way up there. And he was just sitting up there, doing not much. But how on earth will they get this bird down? He's huge, and really high up. If they could get up there he'd fly off, and if they tranquilised him he'd fall down. Maybe he'll just go back in the aviary when he get's hungry.

There is a bird house isolated away on the other side of the zoo. Most of the birds are not that interesting, it's a bit small and sparse. But then there are penguins. It is so strange to see penguins in a big indoor pool, in a hot country. They just hang out, floating, diving a bit, doing not much. They mostly weren't interested in us but like magpies seemed to like shiny things. They saw my sunglasses, I must have been holding them in front of the window. They came up and just sort of hung out in front of us, following the sunglasses around as I waved them in front of the window, and biting the other penguins that tried to come over for a look.

22 October 2009

On leaving UAE and arriving in Ireland

This morning trying to find the Abu Dhabi airport was slightly panic-inducing. Like many things in the UAE there is no organisation, no underlying plan. Things are just done, buildings built, sometimes signs are put up. So what I am getting at is that it was badly signposted. We thought we had gone the complete wrong way and that I would miss my flight. We did find it eventually though. It is in some ways a lat smaller than Dubai airport yet at the same time seems much larger than Dublin airport, where I am sitting now. Although surely they must be about the same size. It is just that the emirates want everything to be large and impressive, and it is all brand new.

And on leaving Abu Dhabi I would like to say that it is really just not my cup of tea. I don't like all the people, especially the way they stare and spit and are sometimes very smelly and are sometimes very rude and pushy. And I don't like the heat, nor the sand. Nor all the buildings being built everywhere and the thousands of poor street cats (like this one that lives outside Mum's building and that she feeds every morning). And the whole country appears to be under construction and people drive and park like maniacs. And did I mention all the sand?

But it can be pretty, if you are lucky, and out at the right time. Though coming from New Zealand what they call nice I would still call dry and dusty.

So anyway it was a long flight, and Etihad is not really any better or worse than any other airline. They are all mostly the same. The aisle was really narrow but the tv screen was big. The service was good but there were a lot of crying babies. There was some bad turbulance, and it is windy in Dublin, I don't think I have ever been in a plane that had such a rocky landing. The weather does seem very bad here, what I can see out of the window is very windy and it was raining before, really really hard. And I left my coat in Abu Dhabi. Isn't that just great? But I have heard that the weather in Galway is better than here so I hope that is true. The weather forecast led me to believe that right now at least Galway weather will be similar to how Invercargill is right now. But that could be hugely wrong. I think I will be missing my coat very shortly.

I will arrive at Galway at 7.15pm and for all that I am paying for a student residence you would think that there would be some sort of management there to show you to your room and be available to answer any questions. But no. And it is a public holiday Monday which is good for giving me an extra day to settle but at the same time not so good because there will be nothing really open for me to begin sorting things out anyway. But what can you do? It is not so great to arrive in a place at night, I would far prefer to arrive during the day when you can actually see what you have gotten yourself into. Yet I always do seem to arrive somewhere new at night time.

Also on the plane I read a very good book. It was called 'Special Topics In Calamity Physics' by Marissa Pressl, I picked it up at a secondhand bookstore in Invers for 5 bucks ( I chose it because it looked pretty). I recommend it. But I have just left it behind on the table of a cafe because I finished it and it was weighing down my already overstuffed bags. I have got really lucky and not had my hand luggage weighed at all – I think it might be about 3 or 4 kilos over the limit, maybe more. And all that without my coat. And I bet it will take ages for Mum to post it and then a really long time to actually arrive.

Plus to top it all off, the travel and time-zone change, heavy luggage, left-behind items, airports and people and planes – I have a cold. Stupid Abu Dhabi and all it's air conditioning and jet lag and whatever else has given me a cold. My nose is blocked, my head is sore and I feel really, mind-numbingly exhausted, I just want to sleep. Which is not really a good way to feel when you have another flight ahead of you, a taxi to find, a new city to enter, an apartment to find and get accostomed to and neighbours to meet so that the making-new-friends can begin. But they say that Galway is really nice, real pretty, cultural centre of Ireland, all that. So, I guess we'll just wait and see.

20 October 2009

In Abu Dhabi

Well I am in Abu Dhabi again, visiting Mum for a week. I arrived yesterday at 2am. Dubai airport is so big, it takes forever to get from the plane to the baggage carousels. And the baggage then took a further forever to be unloaded. But aside from that Dubai airport is so fast, maybe just because in the middle of the night they can't be bothered, but there seems to be no going through customs. You get your passport stamped and go right through. Nothing to fill out, you can declare stuff but I wouldn't even know what you have to declare, they just don't tell you. Not at all like trying to enter New Zealand.

Anyway it takes a couple of hours to drive to Abu Dhabi from Dubai. It is not at all like driving from city to city in New Zealand, here the road is well lit the whole way, runs in a straight line and there are four lanes on each side with a big divider in the middle. Which is really very helpful when you are not used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Mum's apartment is mostly the same when I was living here, except a bit tidier and there is a bit more stuff on the walls, photo-frames a bit less empty, a new rug. Not as nice as the rug that we got in Turkey of course. It is a huge apartment, three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms (the half is just toilet/basin of course), plus a maids room with another small bathroom, which is now the cats room and their litter box is kept in the shower. And a big kitchen and living room. All for Mum and her two cats. Unfortunately even though you live up high in an apartment building, so does everybody else so you cannot actually see anything except buildings.

The stupid cat Nunu is acting all weird at me again. Last time he just hissed at me for my first two weeks. He doesn't do it to anybody else though. Now he is hissing again and looking at me very evilly, but he is not hiding at least. The other cat is friendly, he is not cuddly but likes to rub all over you and pur a lot. Both of the cats like to lick stuff - it's really strange, especially shoes. The other cat can play fetch, I taught him wehn I was living here earlier in the year. He has a rubber ball and he will bring it to you and meow until you throw it, race after it and bring it back. He even drops it right into my hand. Not quite like a dog though, not as stupid. When you only pretend to throw it he figures it out pretty quickly. Maybe indoor living turns cats a bit strange? Mum would like to bring them back to New Zealand. The fat cat is very distinct looking, I think he might only be half domestic, half sand-cat. Nunu on the other hand looks like a normal domestic cat to me.

So far I haven't been outside yet because yesterday I accidentally slept all day. The time change and all. I will go out today though. Mum says it is now just warm and not hot but we will see. It is impossible to know when you are indoors because everything is air conditioned. It is still incredibly early, I feel like I have been up for hours. The working day starts a lot earlier here, something to do with the heat I guess, everybody sleeps through the middle of the day. A bit later when Mum has finished work we will go to the mall, or the beach club that she joined. It is like joining a gym, only I think it is a part of a hotel. As well as gym facilities and a swimming pool there is a private beach, and there are people to wait on you there. You sit on beach chairs and the give you towels and set up beach umbrellas for you and bring you drinks. It cost her a fortune to join but that's just what people do here. They are on big salaries so that they can spend it all. But perhaps if NZ was warmer we would do the same.

18 October 2009

Singapore Airport

So I have arrived in Singapore for a 4 hour stopover, and what people say is pretty correct, it's a really huge airport. You could spend days here and not be bored, why even go into the city? So the airport is very large and nice but at the same time any stopover is not really that great because you are tired, in NZ time it is midnight right now and not 7 in the evening. And of course there is a baby that just won't stop crying. And annoying instrumental music playing somewhere.

There is not much point sitting down and eating because they feed you so much on the plane (Singapore Airlines really do have much better service than the others), but there are some really yummy looking cafes here, there is a Guylian chocolate cafe. And loads of chocolate shops. I wish they gave free samples. There are actually signs making it horrible clear that you are not allowed to sample the chocolate. Very sad. There are so many shops here, it seems like more than in the whole of Invercargill. And considering that there are three terminals and they all have so many shops maybe there are more shops than in Invers. Although you do see the same shops over an over. But still they are shops you would never see in Invercargill like Gucci and Burberry and Prada. Of course I can't afford to buy any of the pretty stuff (there are always a lot of jewellery shops at airports) and even if I could I have already gone way over my baggage allowance. I got caught out in Christchurch and had to take stuff out and stuff it all in my handbag and put coats on. I hope they don't weigh my bag again because I've put it all back of course.

And when you get bored of shopping (or window shopping in my case), there is a hotel in each terminal, a swimming pool, hairdressers and spas, gyms. And a lot of free internet, for your laptop and just computers all over the place, tvs with gaming machines, rooms for lanning, all for free. And a movie theatre in each terminal and cafes with live music. It is a very friendly airport to transit passengers. And just sitting in the middle of all the shops are these gardens. I am sitting in front of the Orchid garden, and there are so many more thnt what you could see in NZ, all different colours and sizes, and growing inside too. And in the middle of the garden is a Koi pond - they look like goldfish only much bigger.

Only the airport does seem very hot, they usually go so overboard on the air-conditioning that I was rather surprised at how hot it is in here. And if you go to any of the gardens that are outside, like the sunflower garden, it is like you have just walked into a sauna.

Of course I don't really have that much to compare Singapore Airport to yet because the majority of my time in transit so far has beein in Brunei, because for all my other flights Brunei Airline was the cheapest. And Brunei is tiny, the airport is tiny and it is just not as nice. But I am sure there are many airports that are very nice like this one. The carpet is very ugly though.

So I think I am done rambling about the airport, I guess I will go wander around some more. Try to make sure that I'm tired enough to sleep on the plane. Of course by the time they feed you and stuff there is not really a huge amount of time to sleep, it is only about a 7 hour flight from here to Dubai. And even if I do sleep I will still be a wreck when I arrive. And it will be 2am there and 4am by the time we get to Abu Dhabi. But I have a week to recover before going to Ireland, and if I hadn't been stopping to visit Mum the flight straight to Ireland would have been 25 hours! And I don't even know yet what to do and where to go when I get to Galway so it is good that I have another week yet to organise myself.