Wish you were here. Specifically, we wish JT, Hayden’s parrain was here. We had plans to meet up in Florida for the weekend, but a tumultuous young phenomenon by the name of Sandy caused a last minute cancellation. While JT was stranded in New York without power or coffee, we did our best to enjoy Hayden’s first trip to the USA without him, but it wasn’t quite the same.
JT had found us a great little place – our bedroom door opened directly onto the beach, so we began each day with a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic. Hayden loved getting his feet wet, watching the waves as they lap back and forth along the shore.
My favourite part was watching the Sanderlings at sunset. These adorable small wading sandpipers run with the ebb and flow of the waves, snatching small crabs, worms, mollusks, and insects just after the water retreats, and then scurrying quickly back up the shore before the next surge can catch them. I didn’t have my camera with me, but this video from The Wanderdrossel captures their funny little feet:
Adrian remains in Miami for a week-long conference, while I attempt to fly home with one very wiggly toddler.
When I arrived at my hotel in Atlanta I received a gift pack of some of the local specialties. I have also been introducing my European colleagues to some North American tastes. I have witnessed grown men take their first mouthfuls of marshmallow peeps, guacamole, and cheesecake (“it doesn’t taste like cheese”).
As all the shops are open until 9pm, I have even been able to sneak in a bit of shopping after work. The hotel is situated right next to a mall, however due to the highway and car park, they recommend that you take the hotel shuttle rather than attempting to walk.
For once I have the upper hand as a native English speaker, and it is I who is able to translate from the local vernacular. I must admit, it is refreshing to be able to communicate effortlessly with everyone around me, making small talk with the taxi drivers and hotel staff. I can even understand all the TV channels, which gives me the privilege to watch such informative documentaries such as “Extreme Couponing” and “Kate plus 8″.
This time last year, I was at the Macworld Conference & Expo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Most people seemed a little confused as to why I would fly all the way down to California for two days for technology conference. For so long, I was stuck on the other side of the world when Apple held its biggest event of the year. In 2008, I was only a few hours away. Little did I know it was to be the second last ever Macworld, and the last at which Steve Jobs would present his keynote.
At 3 AM on Tuesday January 15 2008, I joined fifty other mac geeks at the Pre-keynote meet-up outside the Apple Store on Stockton Steet (I’m the one in the long brown coat and cream pants in the middle), and we walked together to join the line at the Moscone Center, where there were already around fifty people waiting. Despite the early hour and the bitter cold, the atmosphere was electric with anticipation. We spent the next six hours in conversation over breakfast donuts and coffee, reminiscing over past Apple flops and successes, and speculating on what Steve would unveil during the big event. Photo by Adam Jackson.
Finally, they unlocked the door, and we streamed into the hall to see Steve Jobs striding on stage in front of an audience filled with MacBooks and iPhones. He talked about the four billion iTunes song downloads, the new apple TV, and unveiled the MacBook Air. To conclude the event, Randy Newman – the composer for Pixar – sang a few songs, including Toy Story’s “You’ve got a friend in me”, saying “I always root against corporations, ’cause that’s how I am, but not this one”. Photo by Tech Show Network.
This was just the beginning. I spent the next two days visiting all the booths, from Adobe to Microsoft to BusySync to Gelaskins, attending presentations on hardware and software, and even purchasing my very own iPhone – receiving a complementary case from one of the vendors. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by so many members of the Mac community in such a dynamic venue. Photo by smenzel
By the end of the second day I was completely exhausted, trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of Macworld experiences into 48 hours. There were 191 educational sessions, 479 exhibitors, and 47,908 attendees. Luckily, one of the exhibitors was MetroNaps – a company that provides an essential service and which permitted me to trial one of their pods for much need rejuvenation. Photo by laughingsquid.
We welcomed in 2008 on a flight back to Seattle, unaware that it would be our last year in the USA. We both worked very hard during out post-docs in medical science, and we both made novel discoveries and uncovered some of the mysteries of the development and function of white blood cells. Adrian had his work published in some excellent journals, and I learned that the paper from my post-doc “may be suitable for publication, pending revisions” in a great journal. Adrian has been offered a professorship, and I am investigating some interesting jobs in clinical trials. We experienced the freezing winters of the North that will never make me consider Canberra to be a cold city ever again.
I attended MacWorld and witnessed Steve Jobs give his last keynote and unveil the Macbook Air to the world. We explored more of the USA in dribs and drabs – Arizona, Nevada, California, and Hawaii – as well as exploring the Ukraine and Moldova.
The biggest issue that we faced in 2008 was the decision about where we would live in 2009. At first, it was between Maynooth (Ireland), London (UK), Montreal (Canada), and Brussels (Belgium). We visited all four places, and it came down to a battle between the two bilingual cities, Montreal and Brussels, and then Brussels won due to employment and travel opportunities. We celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary in the country that was to become our new home, and Adrian will starting his own lab at the University of Leuven from February 2009.
We finished up our post-docs in Seattle in November, made huge progress towards completing our Masters of Public Health degrees, and finished up the year visiting extended family in Australia that ranged from Brisbane to Adelaide. After nearly two years outside of Australia, we are able to see our birth country with new eyes, and appreciate its charms as well as its challenges. It is a country of relative compassion and opportunity, but is also isolated and monolingual. The weather is nearly always warm with blue skies and extraordinary wild-life, but the water crisis is hitting hard and many of the main rivers no longer reach the sea.
In a few weeks we fly off to Brussels, to begin our new home in Belgium. My goals for 2009 are:
- To find a short-term furnished apartment
- To get a residency permit
- To find a job
- To start learning Flemish
- To get a work permit
- To start my job
- To start learning French
- To buy a house
I think that’s enough to keep me busy for twelve months or so. It is a bit overwhelming to be faced with so many changes, but I realise how lucky that we are to have this opportunity, so the main emotion I feel is excitement. We had a great time in North America over the past two years, and while I think we are better suited to Europe, I am very thankful for all the happy memories that we have of the United States of America.
Two Australian scientists who emigrated to Belgium, and are enjoying the charms and challenges of living in Europe. We were joined in our adventures by our kittens Pepper and Mint in 2009, followed by our son Hayden in 2011. Most of the time, Adrian takes the photos and Lydia writes the words. Adrian's blog can be found here. We can be contacted at