In this edition of my blog, I am going to write about some of the differences I’ve noticed between the Bay Area and Melbourne, both culturally and a little bit academically. I’ll try to keep these as factual as possible and not make any unjustified inferences, but feel free to call me out if you see one. In the final few paragraphs I will ignore facts and point out some differences that are entirely my opinion. This is also probably the second and final post I’ll dedicate to Melbourne itself, because there are a lot of other cool places I plan on going that I’d rather write about, and also so I don’t get too carried away in creating alliterative titles (‘magnificent Melbourne’, ‘majestic Melbourne’, and ‘mostly mundane Melbourne’ are all titles you won’t be seeing).
First, I have to start with the cafes, both because of their plentitude and because of the fact that I am sitting in one right now. Unlike Northern California, where warring tribes fight over the superiority of Peets or Starbucks, coffee chains have a much smaller presence in Melbourne. Instead, every street corner, street block, and any other place where there is an inch of space is occupied by an independently run cafe serving cappuccinos, nutella donuts, and some other stuff that I haven’t tried. If the cafe has actual seats, they will bring you your cappuccino in a white cup on a white plate, and a pretty little design will have been lovingly crafted by the barista in the cream on top. If the cafe is really just a cart or street vendor, they will play you the latest hip music while you stand looking at your smartphone with dozens of other patient customers. While this is all very hipster, I have luckily not seen any mason jars yet (looking at you Sebastian and Miles).
Needless to say, I really enjoy the importance Melbournians place on their coffee, and my only regret is that I have to do other things besides sit in cafes and drink cappuccinos all day.
This cafe went a step beyond, bringing us seltzer water to clear our palates before enjoying the espresso
Besides cafes, Melbourne is the place to be if you like to eat, and are not afraid to spend all your money on food and nothing else. Every city has restaurants, but this place takes it to a whole new level, so that finding food, from Malaysian to Japanese to British pub cuisine, is as easy as walking into the nearest building and ordering. However, I will say that the Mexican food is sorely lacking, which I think is the case everywhere except Mexico and the western United States.
On the subject of food diversity, there is also a definite difference in racial and language diversity here as well. Walking down the street in the CBD, I hear nearly as many people speaking foreign languages as English, mostly Asian ones. The Bay Area and especially Berkeley have a large Asian presence for sure, but Asia is much closer to Melbourne than California, so that more Asians here actually grew up in China, Korea, Malaysia, and the like. There are also a good number of Indians and similar nationalities, and judging by the number of women wearing headscarves, the Muslim population is larger as well. There are, however, very few black people, which is noticeable after living in Berkeley for two years.
Since I have been riding a good amount, I’ll briefly mention the cycling out here now that I am getting used to riding on the opposite side of the road. Near downtown, where I am living, there are bike lanes on most streets, and they even tend to be separated from car traffic which is pretty neat. Once you get out of the city into the suburbs, though, bike lanes are almost non-existent on the main roads, which means you need to know the right ones to ride on if you actually want to enjoy yourself. There are also a lot of paved bike trails, which are cool and all, but I ride a road bike, not a paved trail bike. Leave the trails to the dog-walkers and cyclists who actually stick to the 15 mph speed limits I say.
I am now starting the third week of the semester (out of 12, which means that at the end of this week I’ll be a quarter of the way done!), and today for the first time I did an assignment that was worth some points. Admittedly, I am not taking the hardest course load out here, since Berkeley only allows me to transfer one computer science course anyways, but it still pretty cool not having any homework and only a few heavily weighted projects during the semester. Maybe I’ll regret this once finals approaches, but that’s still two and a half months away, so let’s not think about that at all. My classes are all very interesting, and aside from the Australian propensity to call discussion sections ‘tutes’ (I’ll stick to the American way thank you very much), I am enjoying the semester so far.
Well, that about sums up this blog post. I’ve included another photo album which kind of shows what I’ve actually been doing in the last couple weeks, rather than just what I’ve beeen observing. Now, the next couple paragraphs will be about some things I’ve noticed here in Australia which may or may not be true but are definitely true in my opinion. Read at your own risk.
Click on the photo above to see the album. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like you can read the captions if you’re viewing it on a mobile device, so you’ll just have to imagine what witty comments I came up with.
1.) The Ute is an absolutely useless vehicle. What is a Ute, an American may ask? Well, a Ute is basically a pick up truck, but that was designed to kind of look like a sports car, except much uglier and not even close to as fast. Yes, it has a pickup bed in the back, but I’ve yet to see anything actually in one of the beds. Wait, says the Ute driver, you haven’t seen anything in the bed because of my aerodynamic cover on it, so that I can attain max speeds and buzz other drivers. I say ok, but even so, there’s no way you’re not carrying anything in that closed bed that wouldn’t fit into a sensible mid-size sedan or wagon. American pick up trucks are actually useful, at least to people who have the need to transfer four ATVs, ten bales of hay, a pack of barking dogs, a luxury yacht on a trailer, ten horses in another trailer, and maybe Grandma’s old Airstream tacked on to the back for good measure.
A bunch of Utes stuck in a traffic jam
2.) People who live in Melbourne secretly have unlimited money. This is the only way I can explain the average Melbournian’s ability to drink two $4 coffees and eat a $7 pastry in the morning, spend another $20 on sushi for lunch, maybe have another coffee and pastry in the afternoon, and then go out to dinner for an entree that will cost $25 at the minimum, not to mention the expensive wine and dessert they’re all probably getting as well. By my calculations, I’d have to spend approximately $500 a week to fit in, but instead all I get are disapproving looks when I only buy one cappuccino at lunch and explain that I made my own sandwiches and brought them with me.
3.) Most Australian animals don’t actually exist. Yes, I have seen kangaroos, but what about the wallabies, koalas, crocodiles, wombats, platypuses, and various other poisonous animals that Americans have been led to believe exist in the wilds of Australia. Disregard the fact that I’m living in the middle of a modern metropolis, because if Australia is really how it has been described to me, I should have already been bit, stung, mauled, kicked, and frankly, should not even be alive. Disappointing.