Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I have a pain in my Sydney...

Monday July 29th, from KL to Melbourne Int. (Some evil portents are seen!)

You ask how far the farthest star is
To go by bus or to go by car?
Is the way too far? you couldn't say
You won't get there anyway
He says it takes a private plane

Tuesday was a travel day.. just off to the airport by shuttle-car and a nearly 8 hour flight to Melbourne, where we were waiting to travel to Sydney, because a professor at Dongguk was supposed to be in Sydney. We had jiggered our schedule so that even though we landed in Melbourne we would immediately go to Sydney. That professor then bailed on Australia, leaving us with slightly odd travel plans.

In Melbourne, because we arrived at 11:30 pm, we’d taken a hotel that was close to the airport.  At the airport, my bank card was declined by the ATM. I was a bit concerned, because sometimes Korean bank/credit cards don’t travel as well as they should. When I asked a man at an exchange kiosk, however, he laughed and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s just that VISA isn’t working on our machines.”
So, like, half the credit cards in the world, and the only ones I have? Yep!

Then I went to the bathroom and saw what I took to be a poor marketing approach:

Er... really?  "Minimum Size?"

We got to the hotel just as the restaurant closed, discovered no mini-bar, water, or food of any kind, and headed down to the reception to discuss options. I said I wanted to exchange some money and find a store, and the nice woman there said there was a 7-11 about 15 minutes down the road.

We walked down there, Yvonne gibbering all the way about how dark it was, and when we finally found it, to my dismay they did not sell beer (this was my first introduction to the BS, “London circa 1970” alcohol rules in Australia).  Fortunately, however, my VISA card did work here, so we had some scratch.

A quick walk back and we micro-waved the entirely artificial potato and mash concoction that Yvonne had purchased, and while she took a shower I tried the Internet.

Which, was pay by the minute, and also had to be set up by the women at the desk, and since they were already asleep (probably had a champagne room set up for personal use after work!) it couldn’t be done.

Still, there was one epic feature to the Internet plan that made me think that the Australian Internet Scheme was not a plan so cunning that it would make a weasel stand up and salute (oh, c’mon, if you don’t recognize that reference… uh.. likely you have a life?).

You could buy 15 minutes for $2AUD or and hour for $10AUD. I was tired, out of sorts, and sober, but even I could do the math on that one. I wanted to march down to the front-desk, plop down my ten and when they started to ring it up, say… oh…. Wait.. and pull out the $2 coin and say.. nah.. 15 minutes… And then do that until the first hour was over.

Alas, my plan for a ridiculous and petty revenge could not be put into effect as the staff were in the Champagne Room.

I went to sleep hissing, and planning to take revenge on Australia as a whole.

Tuesday July 30 Travel to Geelong

In the morning it was back to the airport to catch a bus to something like a City Center and then a train to Geelong.

This took longer than expected.

Then, there was one of those moments that makes no sense to me. Yvonne and I got our train tickets, and they were for the un-reserved first two cars of the train. We sat opposite each other in a four-seat cluster of two facing benches. The train continued to fill up, and never quite did, with a sprinkling of seats throughout the car.

Just as the train was about to pull out of the station, our train car titled downwards behind me, and a fellow who might have been Mr. Creosote, lumbered in.

Now, it’s a reasonable assumption that as jelly-filled fat fuck (a phrase for which I will always be grateful to my Brother-in-Law for bringing to my attention^^) myself, I  might at any time be the chubbiest fellow in any particular overseas train car, and it’s possible that this was the case here.

Which is why it is bizarre, completely beyond bizarre actually, that Rotundo The Wonder Beast immediately slumped down beside me.

By which I actually mean, half on me.

The dude had enough spare ham on his thigh to feed an entire Saudi Arabian (non-Muslim, I guess) village. And that massive ham was now spread across the lower half of my body.

I looked across the aisle to Yvonne who was trying, about 50% successfully, to stifle an enormous grin.

My guess is that Elephant Man chose the seat he did because it was closest to the entrance, and trust me that’s a lesson learned.

His Expansiveness also talked continuously on his cellphone (example witticism - “that dude is a douchebag!”) and had managed to lose his ticket in the 30 meters from the station to the train. I presume he lost the ticket into some fold of his own flesh, from which he would later pick it, rancid and moldy, and then surreptitiously eat it. Or, since the dude was big enough to have gravity along the lines of a Black Hole, the poor flighty ticket had been sucked into his gravitational field, and instantly destroyed.

That was all good, because it gave him an excuse to get up, pat himself in a process that disconnected his shirt from its tuck-in and revealed his underwear, and then WWF fashion, drop 300 pounds of right leg onto me again.

Geelong was nice enough. Pretty in that clapboard (that might not be the word I’m looking for…. Gingerbread? Artificial?) way that much of Australia is, and we wandered about it, mainly trying to adapt to Australian accents.

We quickly hit the three bookstores on the map and then, while I shopped for drugs and alcohol, Yvonne went back to the best one.

Then, rain threatening, we headed back to the hotel.

As we had to wake early, rocket-scientist, international planner, and my wife, Yvonne?  She came up with a plan… We would go to bed at 9 and this would give us a restful 6.5 hours of sleep.

Which never works with me. If I go to sleep that early I always wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep.

Combine that with the “night before Xmas” feeling of being about to go to a new place and I slept about 15 minutes all that night.

Wednesday July 31 – to Sydney

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

On Tuesday we woke early (like 3:30 AM) and got a ride to the airport from a particularly garrulous lorry-driver who really, REALLY liked sports. The transport company insisted on picking us up at 4:00 for a 6:10 flight. When we got there we were the only non-employees in the airport, and the flight had already been delayed. So.. a lot of waiting.

Then a quick flight (slowed slightly by a delay through which we circled over Canberra, so now I’m going to claim I’ve ‘visited’ the place) to Sydney and an equally quick ride (The multipass deal in Sydney is just brilliant) on the public transport to Double Bay, at which we arrived about 5 hours before our scheduled check-in with our airbnb host. So, we hung around on the beach, dodged some rain, and eventually settled in at a coffee shop for a slow cup of coffee. At the coffee shop I was introduced to an evil truth about Sydney – it is VERY wireless unfriendly. I could see the router of the coffee shop, but when Yvonne went to ask for a password, the man mumbled something from between his beak of a nose and landslide of a chin (a very Australian look) about “downloads” and claimed there was no Internet available.  Oh well.  Many places don’t have wireless at all, and those that do are tightly locked down and you stand a reasonable chance of being denied access if you have the temerity to ask. Nonetheless, it was remarkable to see that someone, some dastardly bastard, had created a network with the exact same name as the coffee shop!  Will the temerity of these internet imposters never cease?

Then it was back to the beach to watch the ferries to roll in and out.

After stalling til about noon, Yvonne was getting super-antsy, so we picked up the keys (among three other sets under the gnomes in front of the building!) and dropped off our luggage, quickly went shopping for some food, and then headed downtown to check out a bookstore.

This short trip revealed to me that Sydney is a REALLY beautiful town, and I can only blame my mother for not having taken me there as a youth, so I would have known.

Lots of brick buildings and intricate ironworks, in some ways it reminds me of New Orleans, and every so often a lovely park, or a stunning view of the harbor.  We ended up in Hyde Park, watching old men (including a really irascible and mouthy old asian dude) playing chess on one of those on-ground, laid-out chessboards.

After a bus trip back, we finally met our host, and whiled away the evening over a bottle of red wine and a series of his amusingly escalating (in proportion to wine consumed) jibes at Australians and their culture.

At just about midnight, exhausted from lack of sleep, we turned in.

Thursday Aug 1

It’s just another story of love that’s turned into a tragedy
What am I supposed to do, you want a toast from the man who’s lost
The man who was double-crossed?
From cover to cover?
Baby, you and me were just book lovers.

As always, the first full day is bookstores. We spent considerable time on busses and found about three of them, all pretty cool. On the way back, and partly because I needed to find a bathroom (really, bookstores WITHOUT bathrooms? Sydney, what are you thinking?) we headed into Sydney University and found a young lad playing simultaneous chess with about 10 challengers.

They Seem to Like their Chess, some, in Sydney

I headed off to find the bathroom, slowly listening to Yvonne’s voice dissapear into the background, muttering things to onlookers like “That’s a Yahtzee! That’s gotta be a Yahtzee” and “well, he certainly trumped the wicket on that play. Fair dinkum down the old dijideroo on that one, I do say!”
I fear her efforts to fit in did not work out.

Then, off to two more bookstores and the shocking realization that Sydney is not a first-world city – it does not have nearly comprehensive nor in any way speedy, Internet. It’s an AOL world here, and it’s one of the things I really disliked about an otherwise beautiful city.

Then it was out to the Circular Quay for a trip to Double Bay. Returning home our landlord(?) warned us that he would be in late the following evening, as his company was having a 휘식 (work drink-along) to reward salesmen for good performance.  The original bar tab was set at $400 comprehensively, but as a performance bonus some good salesmen (electricity contracts) would get an extra $40 bar tab each. 

Our host warned us not to expect him in early.

Friday Aug 2

There was no one all around
There was no one there but me
I was staring out a window
I was standing by the sea
The waves kept on repeating
Each one crashing to the shore
And my footprints nowhere leading
As they disappeared once more

We managed to get up before 11 – I’m not sure what kind of laziness assails us on vacation, but it is a profound one. We hung out for a while then headed out.

There was one more bookstore to hit, and it was about three blocks from Bondi Beach, which is also the start of a brief (3 KM) beach walk, so we grabbed a bus there. After a water and coffee (I’m sure it’s obvious which of us had which), we went to the bookstore and then down to the beach.
As a California guy I’m pretty proud of our beaches, but Australian beaches crush US beaches into the sand (pretty appropriate, I think).

We sat on the beach for an hour or two and then headed out on the coastal walk there. It is very short, just over three kilometers, but manages to include three beaches, two of which have “seafront” swimming pools, both of which were being pummelled by the surf.

At the second one Yvonne (pace Jennifer!) made the mistake of turning her back to the sea, and while I was filming excellent shots of the waves pounding the beach?

 Yvonne was busy getting drenched:

After getting drenched, while taking this picture of me -

she decided to get filthy, and so she stepped into a mud-pit that grabbed her left leg just about to the knee. So then it was off to the beach, where she removed her sock and shoe, rolled up her pants, and tried to clean the sock and shoe. Which wouldn’t work, because she stood facing the sea bending over to dunk her dirty clothes, but as soon as a wave came in, she quickly ran away from it. After this happened a few times I became cross, and when the next wave came I pushed her into the sea.

Awesome!  Everything clean.

A buss ride brought us to Harbour, where we walked around amongst other tourists, by the Maritime Museum, a boat show, and several other things that didn’t interest me in the least, and then we finally found the ferry stop. So we took the ferry to Circular, then another to Double Bay. This was the only time we actually crossed under the bridge (and by the alarmingly lunatic gate to Luna park) on our way past the Opera House, and it was grand.

We went home, certain that we would go to sleep and hear our host crash in, knocking various things to the ground as he entered.

Instead the innkeeper came in at about 10:45, retreated to his room where he apparently undressed to his shorts and t-shirt and then opened the door and asked how he looked.

I said, "ok," and ran for the safety of our bedroom.

About 5 minutes later, as we lay in bed, we heard him rush to the bathroom and be briefly but noisily sick.

We laughed in a sympathetic way (well, maybe not Yvonne?) and went to bed our badselves…

Saturday Aug 3

Hey Mr. Bartender, won’t you give some wine?
I gotta get outta town meet my lady on time.
Put 5 gallons in my petrol tank
You know we just about made it but my breath sure stank.

The Internet in the pad is broken, which has required me to entertain myself in unusual ways. So it is that at 7:30 in the evening I am sitting on the back lawn of the lodging, with the sea, less than twenty metres away, pounding at the sand in its ongoing battle to reduce it. Every now and then a ferry boat comes in, or a a pleasure boat docks for the evening. But, primarily, it is me and the sound of tide thumping against the land.

Oh, well, that and a couple of beers and the noble sounds of Mott the Hoople thrashing from the iPhone (all you youngsters should look that stuff up).

Today, we awoke reasonably early and attendant to the fact that our host was likely living in world of regret, we trod lightly and exited early. We made some breakfast, packed some lunch, and headed to the ferry to catch a boat to Circular Quay.  Then we spent about 4 hours walking from hither to thither, and yon beyond. This included the Sydney Opera House, which is as cool as pictures suggest.

Next death march was through the adjacent Botanical Gardens (with a stop at the Governor’s House), which were absolutely brilliant. While I continue to have some kind of reaction to the looks of the Australian people, the city of Sydney is nothing other than drop-dead gorgeous.  Next it was out to MacQuarrie’s Bench  - or some equally unbelievable name which describes a brilliant folly of empire – a governor wasting money on a road and a bench carved into rock on the beach. And why?  So his wife could go out there conveniently and have a place to sit.

Empires are AWESOME!

And as I type those words it all makes sense – he wanted the ball-and-chain out of the house and had the particular means to accomplish it, even if it meant wasting municipal funds. The guy built a road and stone chair with British Imperail money, just to get his wife out of the damned house.
Now THAT allows a British fellow a means by which to maintain his stiff upper lip!

Then a walk back to the NSW Art Museum which is free and pretty vast. The museum has its share of modern ‘art’ nonsense. I don’t think I will ever be impressed by a ‘painting’ that is 9 square meters of a single color on rough canvas, even if the notes are relentlessly inventive in imploring us to see its “roughness, varied strokes, and alterations in depth.”  Honestly, that sounds like the description of a gay porno, and ever since the Internet has become ubiquitous, I won’t pay for that, either.

Tuckered, we headed back to Hyde Park and watched a bit more chess on the “walk-on” chess board. On the way there a friendly guy in a park saw me looking for my map and asked where we were going. He agreed with our assessment that it was on the other side of the church we were looking at, but added that if we walked to the stairs of the nearby carpark we could go to its lowest level and take an automated walkway to Hyde Park. He was correct, it was excellent, and the moron that I am, I filmed most of it.

Then it was back to Double Bay, a short trip to the store, one pint at the pub, and a return to home to eat some pizza and be very quiet as our landlord (judging by what was in the sink) had risen only to make some pasta, and was back asleep in his room.

Then, out to this backyard. A bit brisk, but in clear Australian air, and drop-dead scenic.

And, beer.

And Mott the Hoople.

Sunday August 4th

I come from London town
I'm just an ordinary guy
Fridays I go painting in the Louvre
I'm bound to be proposing on a Saturday night
There he goes again
I'll be lazing on a Sunday lazing on a Sunday
Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

A cup of coffee and a quick bite at a local café – not the one that denied us internet access on our first day, but one that, true to Sydney’s lame form, simply did not have internet access at all.
Then, Yvonne style, it was off to look for even more bookstores and we kind of lucked out.
The Ampersand café lied to me that it shut its internet down on weekends, but I tried the password and it worked. Duplicitous Aussie weasels! At the same time, the attached bookstore was awesome  - several floors with overstuffed chairs and couches to sit on, food could be served in the bookstore, and a wide range of books though, predictably for this trip, nothing that served me. Across the street and down was the BerkouW bookstore, which was also pretty cool, and we wasted a few more minutes there, before walking downtown to the Australian Naitonal Museum, which had some cool things in it, the coolest of which were unrelated to the main goals of the museum. The first was a wildlife photography contest winners exhibition. There were many pictures of cute, cute animals, several instances of nature red in tooth and claw, and every one with some little bromide about the responsibility mankind has to nature. I was so overwhelmed by this message, that when we finally did leave the museum I went up to the first obese pigeon I could find and tried to punt the bugger into next week.   The other exhibit was a Charles Addams exhibit. I’m guessing this means he was born in Australia, but couldn’t be bothered to look beyond the cartoons themselves, some of which were as funny as I remembered, and the remainder had to do with the Adams Family, which I suspect was his largest paycheck.

When we returned home our publican had returned to the land of the living and we had an excellent conversation while he was cooking his curry (for the second night straight we were on take-and-bake pizza as we had brought two home the previous night, suspecting our landlord would be in no condition to cook, not that he would still be locked in his bedroom).

Monday August 5th

We grabbed a ferry to the Circular Quay and headed to the Museum of Sydney. This was kind of cool, with a history of the city, some decent stuff on the Aboriginal experience (a phrase that pretty much means “Aboriginal genocide”), and an exhaustive exploration of the development of the Sydney Opera House.

Then a short walk to the Sydney Barracks, which we toured the outside of before Yvonne decided to go inside. At $10 it didn’t really interest me as much as a glass of wine at the adjoining café, so Yvonne went in and I sat down for a glass of wine. Which, I was quickly informed I couldn’t have unless I ordered something to eat (Did I mention that, for a nation of laddish drunks, Australia has some very bizarre licensing codes?). I had coffee instead. Then, as the sun dropped behind the buildings of Sydney, I waited in the courtyard for Yvonne. Because I was not inside the museum, Yvonne found it very interesting and consequently refused to leave. I sat in the sandy, now dark, courtyard contemplating the rise and fall of empires, the inexorable passage of glaciers, and the eventual heat-death of the universe.

Here is where All Time Ends...

Inside, Yvonne minutely examined various scraps of cloth, and shards of broken pottery indistinguishable from the contents of the rubbish bin behind our rental.

Galaxies exploded into life, then imploded and disappeared.  Life forms evolved, took their days in the sun then faded into oblivion.

Some time later, Yvonne emerged from the barracks.

Then, because Yvonne wanted to see more of the bay, it was off to the Circular Quay to catch the big ferry to Manly. Manly is one of those pre-fab surfer towns (some old and cool architecture notwithstanding) which attempts to hover precariously between tattooed cool and naked merchandising, with the latter having the upper hand. The beaches were vastly inferior to those of Bondi, Coogee, etc, as they weren’t very dramatic. The main entertainments of the town came from the fact that everything was the “Manly this” and “Manly that” which sometimes made for amusing place names, such as the “Manly Olympian” and “Manly public Toilets.”  This is a joke I’m sure the residents of Manly found amusing for the first 13 minutes of their "Manly" (LOL! It NEVER gets old!) lives, and then found tedious beyond belief.

Yvonne insisted on staying until darkness fell, and when we got on the back of the ferry, which unaccountably turned out to be the front of the ferry (it doesn’t turn around.. apparently having five gears in reverse as well as forward). Consequently we were whipped by the frigid gales which blew over the harbor, or at least until we were nearly crushed by the horde of alarmed photographers who had rushed to the ‘front’ of the ferry, only to discover that it was now the back of the thing.

That realisation occasioned a mad rush to where we sat at the end (front? Back?) of the front/back of the ferry, and I was quite surprised we didn’t have a Marx Brothers moment where the entire ship listed towards the bow, prior to all of us being dumped into the water and drowning. As we approached the middle of the harbour, the photographers began snapping away in earnest, nearly a third of them with their flash-units fully engaged, despite the fact that the nearest object they could be photographing, unless it was my charming and photogenic bald spot, was 500 meters away.

Once home, I defrosted in a bath of beer, applied internally, and we went to sleep relatively early for the trip to Alice Springs.


We have plenty of extra photos of all this. But most of you refuse to come over to our house.

We'll have the slide-projector cued up, just in case.

But we're prepared to never have to use it.

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