The past few days have seen Nick and I bid farewell to his sister Kerry and head off visit to his brother Mark near Beaudesert (where I saw my first kangaroo and wallaby). Yesterday we made our way to the Gold Coast by way of some really beautiful parks and tropical rainforest. In particular, we went to a place called Natural Bridge in Springbrook park that was spectacular. I took some photos and videos which I will upload in the next few days as I am alas without fast internet at the moment. In a short while I will head out to pick up our friend Jason at the airport, as he decided last minute to join us for the NYE party tonight.
It has been raining almost non-stop since arriving in Brisbane, and my friend Nick has been sick and so understandably not much up for anything except lying around. Fortunately Nick’s sister Kerry and her husband Peter (who we are staying with) took me on a little walking tour of Brisbane yesterday, and despite the rain I found it all very charming. In particular, we saw a pedestrian core of streets and shops in the cbd not unlike other such projects around the world, but quite nicely done, and then meandered across the bridge, down through an area called South Bank, across a pedestrian/bike bridge and over to the City Botanic Gardens. It was raining the whole time, but it was still quite nice and we had much of it to ourselves for that reason, and we stopped in a couple of places for coffee and food along the way. Overall it gave me a very nice impression of Brisbane, and of Kerry and Peter our hosts, who are really lovely people. The rain, alas, continues its relentless drive this morning, I am not sure what we (or I, if Nick continues to feel sick) will be doing today, perhaps the museum. We had been planning on exploring some national parks and other sites in the region, but I may have to leave those adventures for another visit.
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Yesterday Nick and I said goodbye to most of his family and got in the car to head to Brisbane to see another sister of Nick’s and her family who were not able to be with us in Kingsthorpe. Since Nick does not have a license, I agreed to drive us around while up here, in a car we are borrowing from his brother. I was a little worried since the last time I drove on this side of the road (in the UK in 2004) I pretty much destroyed the left side of the vehicle. But it is actually a lot easier to drive in Australia. Despite it being on the left, the roads are very much like the US, wide and new. We made it to Brisbane with very little trouble and had a really lovely afternoon of drinks and snacks with the family here. I will say one thing for this part of Australia, it is much hotter and higher humidity than the south. I am sweating like a pig.
The last few days I have been with Nick’s large family about 1000 kilometers to the north of Sydney, in Queensland, the state just above New South Wales. The family originates near a place called St. George and most of them still reside in the state less than a few hours drive from each other. We were staying in a house in Kingsthorpe, near the larger city of Toowoomba with the family, and like most holidays was filled with family, fun, and food. Everyone in Nick’s family who I met was without exception warm and welcoming to me, and I really appreciated being there. The accents are quite a bit stronger up here, and at times I have struggled to understand what people have been saying. One of the funnier moments came when they were discussing a dessert that they would be making, and what a favorite it was. They kept calling it “rumble”, everyone loved “rumble”. Wait til you taste the “rumble”. It contained chocolate and sultanas and coconut and rum. I was excited to try this local Australian treat. And when they gave me one I realized it was the quite familiar “rum ball”.
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.
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– 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.