Well, I am leaving Sydney, although I will be back for a couple of days before leaving Australia. I will be heading north to spend Xmas with my friend Nick and his family, and explore Brisbane, The Gold Coast, Toowoomba and other unpronounceable places. (Speaking of which, my friend Nick tells me we might get as far inland as Upper Bumbuggera ;)). For NYE, we will be attending some huge gay dance party called Tropical Fruits in a place called Lismore. Oh, and I have agreed to drive Nick’s brother’s car for part of our time up there. Although it is legal, the last time I drove on this side of the road was in England with my niece Sarah a few years back, and we pretty much trashed the entire left side of the car. But I am hopeful we will not have a repeat of that as the roads are quite a bit wider here. Fingers crossed. Stay tuned for dispatches from bogan country.
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.
– 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.
– 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.