Yesterday a nice local guy named Sanjeev took me to an amazing dumpling place called ShanDong Mama. Everything I had there was super delicious, from the spicy Szechuan pepper beef to the pan friend “Melbourne” dumplings to the steamed “Dill-icious” dumplings. Highly recommended if you are in Melbourne.
After that, I took a stroll through the CBD over to the NGV to see the JPG show. Upon entering, there is a room filled with mannequins that have video faces projected on them, some of which are talking, some are winking, some are smiling, and some are just looking bored but occasionally blinking. It was an amazing (and very creepy) effect, and was definitely leading me down to the uncanny valley. I mean, check these out:
Kinda makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it. Still, very cool. the rest of the show presented the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier over the years, and I have to say it was impressive and filled with humor and delight. It was also quite well organized and a pleasure to walk through. If you should be in Melbourne before it closes, definitely check it out.
- You can’t make reservations in most Melbourne restaurants, so it is always a crazy long wait to get a table. This strikes me as woefully inefficient.
– And speaking of restaurants, if you can’t finish your meal, you can’t take your uneaten food to go. Or perhaps you can, but everyone I spoke to here finds the very idea repellant. (but apparently wasting half a plate of food is not as repellent).
– There are oh so many things in the language that are similar to us, but different. They say “general knowledge” when we would say “common knowledge”. They say “how are you going?” when we would say “how are you doing?”, etc etc etc
– The seats facing each other on the trams and trains are far too close to each other. Only children and little people could comfortably sit across from one another. But I guess the same is true of how close some subway seats are in New York. Perhaps these were all originally designed for a time when people were smaller.
– As in the UK, people seem to drink more here than in the US.
– I have probably mentioned this before, but card payment is almost all contactless or chip and pin (although I gather they came to this quite recently). I can’t wait for the US to join the modern era in this regard.
– Because of the accent, I often can’t understand what people are saying and need to ask them to repeat themselves. When people say “all good” here, it sounds exactly (to my ear) like “awkward”. Which is pretty much the opposite of what they are meaning to convey.
– Automatic doors here all open much too slowly, what is up with that?
So I did end up having a Thanksgiving meal after all. I got invited by a lovely group of guys here to their annual Thanksgiving meal. Even though only two of us in attendance were actually American, it was a faithful rendition (with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc) and delicious to boot. And I had some pretty interesting conversations about Australian politics, voting systems (in particular compulsory and preferential), gun control, and health care, among other things. Spoiler alert: On many of these issues, I prefer the Australian versions. This doesn’t mean for a second I would rather live in Australia than the US (well, NYC), but there are many solutions in these areas which I wish we would adopt. One of the best things about traveling is that one has the opportunity to learn about different cultures, and although Australia seems superficially very similar to the US (and is very similar when compared to countries in Asia for example), there are in fact many differences and it is a pleasure to learn about these. Some of them (as I have written about before) are political, some linguistic, and some have to do with social customs or behavior. (One small thing I have noticed here in the sub culture of gay men is that we say our goodbyes differently. We tend to hug more in the US, they tend to kiss more on the cheek here. These little things fascinate me.)
And a rhombus, and other angular shapes that have no names. As I have been walking around Melbourne, I have been struck by how much angular (modern) architecture there is. There is definitely a trend here, or a fairly recent history of building that has defined a set of aesthetics that others have taken up with gusto to continue that formal conversation. And that conversation is all about odd angles, things that look as if they are falling over but aren’t, strong dashes of deconstructivism, and plain old high modern. I am not sure exactly when this trend began, but you can see evidence of it all over the place that continues today in projects still under construction. Of course, Melbourne is not only those things, you can also find evidence of a lot of well preserved historic buildings in the CBD. And a lot of crap building of many eras just like you can find all over the world. But this obsession with non-right angles has been really striking to me, much more than any other place I have been. What does it say (if anything) about the character of Melbourne, how the city sees itself or wants to be seen? Is it telling the world Melbourne is a non-conformist? Is it saying that they see themselves as cutting edge, or avant guard, or just a bit quirky? Is it just a fad, the architectural equivalent of Uggs?
Last night the guys took me out to another interesting neighborhood, that of Fitzroy, which I had heard a lot about before coming to Melbourne. It is a formerly rundown area that is a little funky and experiencing a (now very far along) resurgence of economic activity, especially furniture stores and the like, restaurants and bars and clubs. I kinda get the feeling it is a bit the Williamsburg to Prahran’s Chelsea/West Village. Marco talked about it like they know there is good stuff there, but it is a hassle to get to, and kind of feel as if they need to take their passports. We had dinner at a place called Rice Queen, and then went to a “regular guy” (the way it was described to me, perhaps because there were so few lookers in the place) gay club called Sircuit. The music was very good and everyone seemed to be having a great time there, it was infectious. We called it a night after a few drinks and this morning I got up and made my way by tram (I am getting the hang of them here) to Port Melbourne, a pretty, nicely developed area by the water, where I met my old friend Jimmy (last seen in a yoga ashram in India almost 8 years ago) for brunch. It was so great catching up with him, I forgot what a sweetheart he is, and we took a substantial walk south along the water, ending up in the St Kilda neighborhood, before I made my way back to meet the gang for gay Sunday drinks at a bar called Railway in a neighborhood just south of theirs known as Windsor. Then it was a heavy dinner of burgers and too many fried things, before finally making my way back home. I am feeling just a little bit gross now and will say good night.
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.
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.