Last night Marco and Luc invited me to their lovely home in Prahan (a neighborhood which is just a short walk down the road from South Yarra) for drinks with a friend of theirs (Guy), and then we all went out to dinner. I loved the neighborhood at night, it was brimming with activity on the high street, and has a really nice scale to it. And there were an abundance of bars and restaurants open, and we settled on a great little Vietnamese restaurant called “Hanoi Hannah“. After that we walked around a bit and ended up at a speakeasy called Jungle Boy, hidden away behind a freezer door at a place called Boston Sub that smells strongly of fry grease and serves Poutine of all things. A few things struck me while out and about last night. First, there were a fair amount of homeless people on the streets, more than I have seen anywhere else on this trip and come to think of it, more than I see in NYC these days (but less than one sees in San Francisco). Second, although this was a very gay neighborhood, it felt much more mixed to me than most gay neighborhoods (I guess Hell’s Kitchen is much the same, but it is also much more dense). There were also a strangely large amount of hot rod, loud noise making vehicles on the street. And finally, there were a shit-ton of drunk people yelling, but this was Friday night after all. I myself was drunk (but not yelling) as I said my goodbyes, and made my way back to my apartment, only about a 20 minute walk away on cool, very pleasant night.
Sometimes you just want to chill out.
Last night I took the opportunity to watch a reality show that is generating a lot of buzz here called “First Contact“. It is a three part show that exposes a group of 6 “regular” Australians who have had no or minimal contact with Aboriginal (indigenous) peoples to a diversity of examples of how they live. In some ways, it was a too-good example of the reality show genre, almost a parody, especially in its heavy handed editing and overly dramatic voiceovers (“Bo-dene is about to confront something shocking that will shake her to the core”). They also created drama where there was none, and glossed over many chances for meaningful pedagogy on the issues and legal regimes that confront Aboriginal populations. And yet, it did present Aboriginal communities in a variety of contexts, and gave this American a little view into the lives of these groups. Having been in Australia now for only about 10 days, I do get the sense that they are more in touch with the legacy of their colonialism and treatment of these groups than we are in the US. And yet, it seems there is also an ongoing evaluation of this legacy that probably swings back and forth over time, and with changing of governments and attitudes.
Get your mind out of the gutter. The title does not refer to what you think it does.
Last night I met up with my local friends Marco and Luc (who I met two years ago in Mykonos and recently ran into by chance at the Canberra bush dance), and a couple of their friends for drinks and dinner. We first went to a rooftop bar for drinks before sunset, which was pretty nice with the weather. Apparently rooftop bars are quite popular in Melbourne, I have had several people tell me. Then they took me to a lovely Greek restaurant named “Gazi“, that was pretty yummy.
Separately, a couple of times recently someone has addressed me as “spunk” or I have heard other guys referred to as “spunk” or “spunky”. While initially confused and vaguely grossed out (given the American slang meaning), apparently this is Australian slang for a hot or sexy man. I’ll take it.
On a separate note, my walk around the CBD yesterday was interesting. The place feels very much like an American city, with touches of the British. And although a grid, there are lots of alleyways filled with bars and restaurants and social life. My friends tell me these are really some of the best places to go in Melbourne, if one knows the spots. We will meet up again on Saturday for some exploration.
I’ll be honest with you, the next two weeks will be a lot more tame. While I will be exploring Melbourne while I am here, it is not meant to be as go go go as the last few weeks have been for the simple reason that I have to pay for shit. Meaning, I have to work to be able to afford all this. So I rented an apartment in the South Yarra neighborhood, which is pretty nice and well set up for me to chill out and get some work done and live a normal-ish life for a couple of weeks. And that is what I have done today so far. I did some grocery shopping, went to the gym, and have been back working ever since. I did take a brief walk around the neighborhood yesterday, and it gives off a bit of a funny impression. Although it is clearly a hip and wealthy neighborhood, it looks like there was a big push about 10 or 15 years ago (from the looks of the architecture) and then was kind of frozen in time there in 2004. There is still a lot of building going on, but it feels of some slightly other era. And for some mysterious reason, everything closes really early (well, by American standards anyway). I went walking around 5pm yesterday and it seemed about half the stores were closed. And the most bizarre part was not being able to find a coffee shop open anywhere. I passed at least 8 of them that were closed. My friends tell me no one drinks coffee at that time of day, which sounds just as strange to me as if someone told me that is the time of day people stick needles in their eyes or slowly chew broken glass.
Anyway, later tonight I am meeting some friends downtown (or in the CBD as they say here) for a meal and drinks, so I will take the opportunity to walk there and see a few neighborhoods along the way. Don’t take any of the above about Melbourne as at all reliable, I am sure my early impressions will change as I get to know the city better.
This morning I was preparing to head out to the airport to catch my plane to Melbourne. I knew I had plenty of time since this was a domestic flight, but I was still planning to get there with a little more than an hour to spare. I was getting ready in a leisurely way, checking to make sure I had packed everything when I took another look at my itinerary and noted that it said “Terminal 1″ on it. So I went to lookup this terminal and found that it was the international terminal, which seemed very odd since I was taking a domestic flight. Then I looked on the Jetstar airline site to find out that some of their domestic flights did indeed leave from the international terminal, and this meant that one had to arrive with the same amount of time one would give to an international flight.
Shit. Suddenly, I was late.
I jammed the rest of my stuff into my bags and bolted out the door, running towards the station. I arrived a sweaty mess at the airport, but in enough time to get my boarding pass (which they would not issue online) and get through security. And speaking of security, it was like 9/11 just happened a few months ago for them. Inconsequential things that I had dragged in my carry on from country to country, and between several continents, were suddenly dangerous tools of terrorism according to the over-eager security screening staff at the Sydney airport. They threw away my beard oil, my tiny beard trimming scissors, and they even threw away my 2/3rds empty tube of toothpaste. I wanted to ask the earnest 14 year old, shiny, barely post pubescent young man who was doing all the rechecking of my luggage if he had perhaps just completed his training and came in first in his class with a gold star in diligence. But instead I just asked him why, when I had taken all these things across so many countries I should be stopped now. He then had the nerve to tell me there was “NO WAY you would have passed security in the United States with this.” When I told him I had indeed done just that he said he did not believe me. I have decided that our power abroad (such as it is) must rest on numerous such assumptions about American thoroughness and toughness.
Fortunately, I was chatting with a very nice young man in line who offered me a free pass with him to the Quantas lounge, so we were able to relax with a coffee and muffin for a bit, have a conversation about travel, and quietly mourn the loss of my grooming supplies. The flight itself was uneventful, but it was kinda cool to ride for the first time in a Dreamliner, the windows in particular are fun to operate. Upon landing, it was unfortunately as if we had come from overseas, and we had to do the whole customs bullshit as we had to on the way out of Sydney. I would say this whole international instead of domestic thingy probably added a good hour to the trip. If you are ever flying Jetstar domestically out of Sydney, do your best to book one of the domestic terminal flights, you will be happier.
I have been learning a fair bit of “strine” while here, which is Australian slang. Here is a little sampling
Dunny – toilet
Prang – fender bender or crash
Townbike – slut
Clacker – asshole
Rootable – f*ckable
No wuckers – No worries, Don’t worry about it
And perhaps my favorite of all:
Map o’ tassie – pubic hair/area. So called because the shape of the state of Tasmania is said to resemble the shape of the pubic hair area of a woman.
When my friend Nick asked me if I wanted to go to the bush dance in Canberra, I gave him a blank stare. I had no idea what Canberra was like nor what this thing called a “bush dance” was, but it sounded quite native and I imagined some sort of Aboriginal purification ritual. I am always up for something new and novel, so I responded with a hearty yes. Turns out it was very similar to an American country square dance, but for gay people, and it was great fun. Canberra, for the uninitiated, is Australia’s capital. It is a fairly new city set up in its current location so as to avoid bitter rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. Nick and I took about a 3.5 hour bus ride to get there, where we were welcomed by one of Nick’s lovely friends, Jason, who we stayed with for the weekend. As Canberra is the capital, a number of significant cultural institutions have been setup there, including Parliament House and The National Gallery of Australia, both of which we visited over the weekend. It was pretty interesting to learn about the Australian parliament setup, which shares many similarities with the American and British (surprise surprise). And the National Gallery has a very nice collection of modern and aboriginal works, and is likewise well worth a visit.
Click the image below to see the whole album.
– It was crazy hot and not a little humid, my favorite combo. And there was AC almost nowhere, it was really blowing my mind. And everyone looked pretty comfortable except me, I was a puddle. I must have passed a hundred restaurants, not a single one had air conditioning. Either it rarely gets this hot here, or these people just love heat and humidity.
– So where does one go to escape heat? What kind of place is guaranteed to have AC? A museum of course. So I spent a couple of hours at the nearby Australian Museum learning some fascinating things about Aboriginal culture and the treatment of Aboriginal groups in Australian history. (Cliffs Notes version: they were not treated well at all)
– After that, I went to get an expensive haircut at a local hip barbershop. It looks good and cuts the heat a bit.
– I also purchased (and will try later with Nick) what is supposedly the best lamington in all of Sydney, from this place.
– Since it was so hot, I went looking for a small fan (Nick does not have one in his apartment). You would not believe how difficult it is to find an item you can get in any corner drugstore in America. I gave up, unsuccessful and bewildered.
– I have also tried to order things with ice in them, and this too seems like something crazy exotic to Aussies. Especially iced coffee. In three different places I tried to explain the concept of cold coffee with ice cubes in it, but the closest I got was coffee with ice cream in it. I am baffled.
In about an hour, Nick and I are leaving on a bus to Canberra (Australia’s capital) for the weekend. I will not be taking my laptop with me, so will probably not blog again until our return. We will be seeing a lot of capital culture and friends of Nick’s and going to some country style dance party, stay tuned for details.
Not much to say about today, except that I keep loving Sydney more and more. Walked around several neighborhoods with very nice architecture (especially around an area called Ultimo), including two fairly well known gay neighborhoods (Surry Hill and Darlinghurst), both of which have beautiful, tree-lined streets. The food so far is nothing spectacularly creative, but it is tasty and generally well done. And again, it probably helps my impression of Sydney that the weather has been gorgeous and the people have been very nice. Especially my host and friend Nick, who is a hoot to hang out with in the evenings when is home from work. Tomorrow night we will head off to the capital of Australia, a place called Canberra, where we will spend the weekend learning about the Australian form of government, going to a history of Australia museum, visit with a friend of Nick’s who lives there, and attend a dance party best described as the Australian version of a gay hoe down.
I arrived to the most beautiful spring weather in Sydney, and I am sure this is coloring my experience of this place, because after one short day of walking around, I love it. I arrived at the Sydney airport this morning at about 8am, after my 10 hour flight from Seoul. One side note about that here: first class, business class or economy, I seem fated by the universe to have a screaming infant near me. Although this one may have had something especially wrong with him. Throughout the flight, his mother kept putting him on her back, and then her mother/helper who came along would wrap the kid up, and then cover him entirely with a plastic raincoat. I am not at all sure he could breath, and they seem to have this weird ritual down to a science. Besides depriving him of oxygen and possibly contributing to brain damage, I am not sure how or why they developed this odd positioning game and it made it impossible for the mother to take her seat of course. It did seem to calm him down a bit, but imagine having to do this every time your kid cried, I would kill myself. And of course the dad, who was in the seat in front of them, only turned around occasionally to make sure the women were taking care of the situation, and then went back to reading his paper. It could have been worse, the kid only woke up the cabin 2 times during the night.
Anyway, back to Sydney. It seems a strange mashup of familiar things that have been put together in unfamiliar ways. The trains are somewhat like England’s but somewhat not. The architecture feels quite American in places. And there is an old house type in Darlinghurst that reminds me exactly of the colonial house type I saw in Melaka (Malaysia). It is springtime as I said, and there are beautiful smells from jasmine and other flowering plants all over the city (well, at least where I walked down through the botanical gardens on my way to the opera house). And speaking of flowering things, there are Jacaranda trees everywhere and they are in full bloom (I haven’t seen those since I lived in Mexico City). I have seen species of birds I did not recognize, and the coffee here is really top notch. The people seem very American to me in dress and the way they carry themselves, and like Americans they are either ruthlessly fit or very much overweight. The city most reminds me of San Francisco, in its scale and charm and attitude of the people.