Current update

Here’s the view from where I’m staying in Melbourne, at the flat of a friend (the delightful and vivacious Carey Lai) of our neighbor and friend in Newton, Claire Nivola.image

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In these views it looks like what I imagine Florida to look like, but in fact, it looks much like other American cities but with a lot of very funky, very modern glass and steel (and other unidentifiable building materials) architecture that dwarfs to original sandstone and brick Victorian edifices. I attempted to snap some photos from the tram, or from the street, but none, as yet, is worth posting. I’m sure there are good photos of the crazy University buildings, new office towers, and outrageous apartment buildings and hotels if you look up Melbourne architecture on the interweb.

Carey and I spent part of the day at the enormous Victoria market, which reminded me of Reading Terminal Market in Philly, Pike Place Market in Seattle, and Haymarket in Boston, only bigger than all three combined.image

We encountered a lot of quite good street musicians, both in the market and en route, as well as some decidedly unstable folks whose performances were of a more spontaneous nature.The guys below are two members of a group called Ganga Giris, and played very cool and ecelctic jazz-voodoo-I don’t know the genre music. The didgeridoo player amped his instrument, which was an interesting sound, and played a PVC-pipe tunable version as well as the traditional one he’s playing here.imageFrom the market my hostess and I wandered some of the laneways, Melbourne’s iconic pedestrian-only streets and arcades with all sorts of cafes and shops and locals and tourists. Shu-Yee would be disappointed that I didn’t buy a single thing, though we did stop and have a scrumptious iced mocha at a chocolate shop. The beverage had ice cream, cream, real chocolate syrup, real chocolate shavings, and some coffee in there somewhere to provide some liquidity. What a treat! That activity was fairly emblematic of a day spend repaying the calorie debt I imagine (I have a great imagination) I incurred while I was subsisting on apples, yogurt, and cheese sandwiches for a few days in Tasmania.¬†

While Carey rested up, I met another friend of a friend, this time a former student of Bob Eccles with whom Bob and his wife, Anne, had become friendly and kept up a relationship over the decades and kilo-miles. My rendezvous with Mike Vitale was in “The Tan,” the Melbourne Botanical Garden, where Mike could both visit with me and walk the black lab puppies he helps prepare to be trained as seeing eye dogs. We meandered through palm trees, eukalyptus groves, past something that might have been a baobab, and encountered a large broad-leafed tree that was in bloom and looked remarkably like a southern magnolia such as I’d seen in South Carolina. It was! There was also a spiraling cactus gardens with species I recognized from Arizona, and a host of waterfowl and shrubs that were from Mother England. I will need to go back in the next day or two to check out the National Herbarium and get a better handle on how the beautiful but far-flung collections are arranged.

Among the many discussion topics we covered as we meandered was that of the organization of the Aussie University system. All but two of the 39 universities in the country are under the control of the Australian government. Any particular course of study, regardless of the institution, has the same tuition. The government pays the tuition for each specific course of study for a specific number of students at each specific university. Therefore, each university accepts only a finite number of students in each course (i.e. major for us Yanks). Every aspiring unie student takes a series of exams and recieves a national ranking based on those scores. Each student also selects several possible courses of study, and the choice of university for that course, and ranks them. Just like in medical residency matching in the US, students are accepted to a course in a university based on the student’s national ranking and their chosen course of study. There are no interviews, essays, or applications. It’s all done by the numbers, and resultant admissions used to be posted all at once in the newspaper (imagine the lines to get that issue!) but are now published electronically.

I guess in a way that is similar to everywhere in the world¬†except the US. Students have to fulfill prerequisites as high school students in order to be admitted into particular university courses. So by 10th grade, kids have to determine what they are going to do for the rest of their lives. With all it’s flaws and the Peter Pan principle it perpetuates, I prefer our system of university education. The college admissions industry, however, could use a serious overhaul!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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