Sydney is a beautiful city, most especially in the nooks and crannies and natural beauty of the place. For the most part, I think the city is at its best when it stays at a smaller scale. With some notable exceptions, the much larger developments of blocks of high rise apartment buildings, casinos, and some newer districts are pretty bland. Sydney is at its most beautiful in the older neighborhoods, and along the winding coastline. Below is a collection of photos I have taken over the past couple of weeks.
- They eat more beets (which they call beetroot) here than any other country I have ever seen.
– Despite their great love of coffee, they do not use (or offer) coffee sleeves for the sometimes unpleasantly hot to go (take away) cups they serve it in.
– UV warnings are ALWAYS off the charts, in the extreme range. Perhaps we are directly beneath a large hole in the ozone layer. Or maybe other countries don’t take skin cancer as seriously.
– There are lots of food courts here.
– Sydney is a great city for walking around in, there are many lovely neighborhoods.
– People must have coffee often before lunch, I am constantly asked in restaurants if I would like a coffee before food. And not just any drink first, specifically coffee.
– Burger King is called Hungry Jack’s here. Apparently when they came to Australia, the name was already taken. I still won’t set foot in this or any other fast food establishment (while sober, anyway).
– They use short post codes, here only 4 digits to our 5.
– This will not surprise a lot of people, but Australia is very white, a little Asian, and not much else.
– People walk how they drive, on the left. This is pretty much true of all the left side countries I have been in.
– This last one is hard to put my finger on exactly, but people (in general, not everyone) seem a bit more reserved than other countries I have been in. They are less likely to volunteer information or help, less likely to go out of their way for anyone. They are not rude by any stretch, just not very effusive. I am still trying to put my finger on exactly what it is, stay tuned for a much longer blog post on this subject as I put my thoughts about it more in order.
It is pretty much a cliché to say, but still bears repeating: bad things can (and do) happen anywhere. Here I am, at the other end of the world, in Sydney, Australia. A place that consistently ranks as one of the safest in the world, especially compared to other cities of similar size. And yet, yesterday it was all kinds of mayhem here, although thankfully not in my area and I was mostly unaffected. Still, if it had been but one day earlier, I was walking right by the location of the crisis. It could have happened to any of us if the timing was right (or wrong). I feel horribly for what the hostages must have gone through, all at the hands of one madman. And the poor souls killed in the crossfire during the rescue attempt after being held for all those hours. Total security and safety is (and has always been) an illusion, yet people are willing to inflict all kinds of horror and curtail all kinds of liberty and civil rights in an attempt to gain it. This has been one of the greatest tragedies of the post 9/11 period. For all the abuses of the state, all the laws passed by government, all the torture of suspected terrorists, and all the wars fought, safety remains elusive. And in the efforts, we have lost so very much in the way of freedom and community.
The only good thing to come out of all of this was a small bit of human kindness, amplified by Twitter via the hashtag #illridewithyou. People reaching out to those Muslims who might be afraid to be in public places (because they would be falsely blamed for the actions of a single madman), or on public transit, and offering to stand by them as a form of solidarity and protection.
- Coincidentally, a bunch of my new Melbourne friends were in town (separately) today. I hung out during the day with Andrew, and then we met up with Troy and Bradley for dinner and drinks.
– Andrew and I went to go see an exhibit here called Red Hot Down Under, at a gallery just a few short steps from where I am staying in Sydney. I gather from the exhibit and talking with people and various cultural references that ginger (or redhead) phobia/teasing/hate is a real thing here and in the UK and New Zealand. It all strikes me as very odd because I don’t remember seeing anything like this level of disdain in the US with regard to this group. If anything, gingers are (in the gay community at least) objects of desire, at least among certain people.
– It was raining non-stop today, and by the end of the day I was really over it. The weather in Sydney has been pretty shitty since I got back.
– I was excited to see from the tracking online that my passport with Brazilian visa was delivered to my friend Nick’s place. But he did not receive it, there is no sign of it, and so it seems that the Australian postal service has somehow lost it. They were supposed to get a signature, so I am not sure how this happened, but I have launched an inquiry. Ugh.
– Australia is turning out to be much more expensive than I thought it would be. I have to really start being more careful.
So I came across something interesting at the building that houses the Brazilian Consulate. They have a type of elevator system that I have not seen before. You would think that elevators are pretty much set in stone by now, that there would not be a whole lot of innovation in their use (Wonkavator notwithstanding). I mean, we have all seen tall buildings that have banks of elevators that go to different floors. We have seen fast elevators, slow elevators. I have been in elevators that broke down and their safety mechanisms kicked in (fortunately) to stop them. I have been in glass elevators, brightly colored elevators, disco elevators. I have been in voice operated elevators and card key and fob elevators. I have been in elevators where a full-time person sits there and pushes the buttons for you. I have been in freight elevators and others with those metal double gates you have to close, and I have been in some where the doors close vertically and meet in the middle. All of that, and I had never seen a system like the one I saw today. There were no elevator buttons inside the elevators, nor on the doors outside the elevators. But there was a numeric keypad just before entering the bank of elevators. There was no sign, so I had to ask, but then it was pretty easy: You type in the number of your floor, and it says on the screen which elevator to take. It comes, you enter, and it whisks you to your floor with no more interaction from you. They are practically personalized vehicles moving in the vertical dimension. And it made me wonder. Is this more efficient or less? It definitely saves time with people not having to fumble for buttons. Anyway, interesting system.
I didn’t have time before my trip began to get my Brazilian (visa, not wax), but I figured with all this time in Sydney, it was sure to be a breeze. Then a few days ago, I went online to find out to my horror that no, it would not be a breeze in fact. First, you have to gather a list of things a mile long (application form, passport photo, bank statements, money order for $208, and verified itinerary) and then make an in person appointment where you will deliver all of these items AND turn over your passport for a minimum of 15 days. I thought I would just make it in time, when I noticed that the first available appointment to book was weeks away, AFTER I was to leave Sydney. And the website contains a lot of very strict language about how they will not expedite shit, for nobody, no how. So I started to worry a bit and thought that perhaps I would have to re-route myself somewhere outside of Brazil. But before doing that, I thought what the hell, I would give them a call. In case you are thinking of doing the same while here in Sydney and in need of some Brazilian service the consulate provides, let me save you some time: don’t bother. There is no human being you can talk to on this line, I must have pushed every button in the damn phone tree. My final option was to send them an email, which I thought totally laughable. I have never gotten prompt or good service via email from any government organization anywhere in the world. But it was my last shot, so I sent them an email explaining my situation and asking them to bend their very strict rules. I thought my chances were between 0.0 and 0.0137 percent.
Are you sitting down? About an hour later, I received a reply telling me to come to the consulate two days later with all the items mentioned above and they would indeed expedite my request. So I carefully gathered and printed all the things they had asked for in the attachment to the email, and made my way to the consulate this morning, and asked for one Mr. Geraldo referenced in the email. After about an hour of waiting, he finally saw me and looked over all my documents and told me there were two items still missing, the email itself printed out (who knew I would need that as well) and a special mailing envelope to send me my passport. Wait, I asked, “Why can’t I just come pick it up?”. Apparently you can only pick up if you go through the “normal” channels. The expedited process requires mailing. I helpfully pointed out that this seemed counter intuitive, but Mr. Geraldo was in no mood to discuss workplace efficiencies, so I ran out and returned 40 minutes later (and $20 poorer) with the final two items. I am glad I saved the tracking number from the express envelope, because I will be able to track it online. And apparently, they have already processed and sent it off, because the tracking shows it was received by the post office at day’s end.
So very soon I should have my visa, and apparently they have changed rules in the last few years and the visas are now good for 10 years (instead of 30 days). For all the hassle, this was easier than the last time I did this, I guess. By a smidge.
Within an hour of my arrival, at breakfast a few weeks ago, Nick gave me the rundown on Australia. One of the first things he told me was that Australians love to “infantilize” everything. So it isn’t “breakfast”, it is “brekkie”. Among the better known others, it isn’t “good day”, it’s “g’day” and so on. Back then I imagined that there were a few choice things that got shortened, and these were just a part of the evolution of language here. After several weeks of living here, I now think it is no part time cultural tic, but a full-fledged mania for reducing everything to the absolute minimum. “Uni”, “avo”, “bikkie”, “cuppa”, “ute”, “barbie”, “mozzie”, “ambo”, “footy”, even “unco” (which is short for, I swear to you, “uncoordinated”), and on and on. I wonder what the origins of this reductive desire are? Is it, as my friend Nick explained, a result of an emotional need to cutsie up everything? Did some large immigrant community bring with them some heavy diminutive use from their native language and it spread through the culture? (although diminutives, while cute, tend to add letters to words rather than reduce them, i.e. mesa becomes mesita. So perhaps that is the wrong track.) Something to think about…
I got back to Sydney yesterday, and Nick invited me to dinner and drinks with good friends of his here, Joseph and Darren (and their friend Tiffany). When I asked (as I often do) how Nick knew them, I was told that he and Joseph both used to work for the Australian Classification Board. This led to a very interesting discussion about what the board does. In essence, they give films their classification (what we in the US would call their rating). So at first I just thought they were the rating board. But here in Australia, EVERY film must be given a classification, and those that are refused classification are banned. I then started asking what sorts of things would be banned and it was a very interesting (and quite subjective) list. Much of it compares quite similarly to the recent British moves to ban representations of certain sex acts. Basically, the government is in the business of deciding what you can fantasize about and have represented on film, either in real or simulated form. As a gay person, I obviously find this utterly abhorrent. It was not so very long ago that activity comprising my own love life would have fallen into such categories and been banned. I don’t have problems with a rating system. But the government that tries to ban a list of sexual practices represented on film between consenting adults is the same government that can ban any idea it disagrees with. And the censorship does not stop at films, the Australian government also bans video games and TV programs and a whole lot of things on the internet.
If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been singing the praises of many of the programs and policies here in Australia in the past few weeks, but here is something where I wholeheartedly prefer the much weaker censorship we have in the United States. The Australians don’t have anything like our first amendment, and perhaps that is the reason for the huge difference.
That title pretty much sums up my feelings about Melbourne. I am really glad I got to spend a few weeks here, because this is very much the kind of city whose charms are appreciated in the quotidian culture of the place. It is not that there aren’t plenty of things to do and see in Melbourne, but there is nothing to really “wow” one in the tourist sense. Melbourne is about its coffee culture, about its food culture. About meeting up with friends in various places, about the rooftop bars and the climate and the (fairly) easy transportation. Melbourne is a pleasant city to stroll in, to shop in, to hang out in. Melbourne has nice parks and nice museums, although nothing spectacular in this area. After a few weeks here, I can see why my friends struggled to find clear things to tell me to do and see here, it is not that kind of place. And yet, on the whole it paints a very enticing picture, like San Francisco in many ways, but with better weather. Melbourne is definitely more than the sum of its parts. My advice to someone coming for a visit: Don’t, unless you can spend a little time. Melbourne is not to be rushed. But with a little patience, you will inevitably find yourself liking it more and more.
Originally my friend Jimmy and I had planned on taking a two day camping and hiking trip to the Wilsons Promontory, but with the forecast for heavy rain, we instead decided on a less ambitious trip up The Great Ocean Road. Even though it was overcast and rainy at times, this ended up being a really good choice. We were joined on the trip by Jimmy’s friend Mark, who provided much in the way of comic relief throughout the journey. It takes a bit of time outside of Melbourne (to the west) before the stretch of road begins, but once it does, it is quite beautiful. It really reminded me of Highway 1 in California in many places, the landscapes can be quite similar and equally stunning. At about halfway up we took a small detour and hike to a place called Erskine Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. I know people are often more impressed by the huge, loud, multi-part falls at Niagara or Iguazo, but there is something more beautiful to me about a tall, thin, single point dropping a great vertical distance. We then headed to a nearby town for some fresh fish, and made our long and winding way back to Melbourne, just in time to miss the heaviest rains of the day and and some intense lightning.