Take me to the place I love

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Where I stayed
empire hotel

Flag of Australia  ,
Thursday, December 22, 2005

Along with New York and Chapel Hill, Sydney is the other place where I absolutely feel at home. It's hard to explain what this place meant to me when I lived here for five months two years ago, but it's just a special place that, unfortunately, only the people who I lived with in Coogee understand what I'm talking about. The city is clean and diverse (although that's a problem for some people at the moment) and there's plenty to do. Sort of like Manhattan, the Central Business District is compact enough that if you're feeling ambitious you can walk to all the major hot spots in one day. The weather is almost always agreeable (I was there in the middle of winter two years ago and never needed anything more than a light jacket) and the people are friendly (especially if you're white).

As many of you noticed, I often keep emotions to myself, but from the moment I landed in the airport Monday evening, I've found that I've had a big smile across my face for no particular reason other than I'm back. That first night, I had no Aussie currency so I just hung out in my hostel in Kings Cross (a backpacker haven that also doubles as Sydney's red light district) and got friendly with two Norwegian girls who were staying in my room. One reason why I love traveling... And here's another. My other roommate is this behemoth German guy named Burt, who has a long pony tail and a long goatee (looks like my freshman year roommate, squared). Belieing his size, he's a really quiet guy, who's nice enough, but just kinda hangs in the background. That night I was lying in bed reading when he popped out and started a conversation by asking me to remind me of his name. The way he asked though, he was after something else other than than mindless small talk. He was holding the song lyric jacket from his CD and after a few other questions, asked, "I can't find it anywhere in my dictionary, what does 'ho' mean?"

The next day, I woke up to 80 degree weather and a cloudless sky so I wandered back to the city center. I started off at Hyde Park, a great three-block park right in the heart of the city (at this point, all you who have been here before can skip ahead if you'd like). At one end of the park is a magnificent fountain with numerous sculptures of characters from Greek mythology in the water. As an added bonus, there are plenty of lunatic Asian tourists running amok to keep yourself entertained. You then walk through a path that is perfectly shaded by these tall, grand trees that bend over the walkway to create a nice canopy to walk under. That leads to a large contemplation pool that is at the foot of an ANZAC Memorial (ANZAC= Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). Aussies are very proud of their service in foreign wars and most of this memorial is devoted to the fallen of WWI, a war that Australia has plenty of reason to be somber for. Back then the British crown had even more control and recruited large forces for the war effort. Because Australians were still the peons of the empire, they were normally ordered to the front lines of the suicide missions while the Britons hung back (Mel Gibson launched his career making movies about this). Australia, in fact, suffered the most casualties relative to overall population of any nation.

After the park, I walked up and down George St, the Broadway of Sydney where most of the nightlife is found. From there I sliced through Chinatown onto Darling Harbor, a beautiful spot that often gets lost in the hype of the main harbor (where the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are -- but more on that later). Those rezzies out there will be relieved to learn that, amazingly, in two years very little has changed in the city. Darling Harbor has changed around many of its shops and some spots have gotten a little too modern, but otherwise, just about everything else is precisely as I remember, and it was shocking how quickly I regained my bearings.

That night I renewed an old tradition and headed to Scruffy Murphy's. Again, the rezzies will be glad to hear that Scruffy's is the place to be on a Tuesday night. Not only that, they still charge just $7 for a jug and, best of all, Big Nyte Out still rocks the place. Not only is Big Nyte Out still on every Tuesday, their set list is almost unchanged in the last two years.

Since I wound up being on my own, I started talking to this English guy, Mike, at the pub. As it turned out, he's trying to start a Web site that will be the equivalent of thefacebook for travelers (and since he kept me in free beer all night, I'll give his site some free publicity, it's travelfaces.com). He was friendly but had a personality that I can only describe as bizarre because without a degree in psychology I'm not entirely sure I can fully put it in words. Toward the end of the night, we started talking to two English girls. After a few minutes, we worked to the part of the conversation of where we were from. When I said the US, the girl I had been talking to said, "Oh, I've met a few Americans, they were all wankers. I don't like Americans," and walked off. Good to see that people can meet three people and apply their reputation to 250 million of us. It's that sort of general attitude that most people assign to Americans. I guess that just makes her a massive hypocrite. And a bitch.

After way too little sleep (I got back at roughly 5:30) I walked into town with my Norwegian friends and then left them to go job hunting while I wandered up to the harbor. You've seen the Opera House. Even if you've never been to Sydney, you've seen it, on television, in pictures, you know it before you even get there. Most landmarks that are that way never live up to the hype. You see them and think, "Yeah, looks familiar." The Opera House is not like that. I've seen it up close and personal countless times and it is still stunning. Even with the grand Harbour Bridge across the harbor, the beauty of the harbor itself and the skyline in the background, the Opera House still commands all your attention. After just relaxing in the scenery for a while, I wandered over to a street performer who juggles knives, and as a finale, juggles flaming sticks while lying on a bed of nails. If this sounds familiar to some of you, that's because he's been doing it in the same spot under the rail tracks for years. As I said, nothing has changed here. I even helped in his show once two years back. (That reminds me, Sydney has some of the most bizarre street performers you'll see. When I was walking through a pedestrian mall Tuesday I saw a guy playing a guitar and kazoo while balancing another guitar vertically on his head. This, of course, is still a distant second to the guy who played the guitar, djiridoo and foot tambourine all at the same time. With a cockatoo on his head.)

Exhausted again, I decided to spend the rest of the day hanging out outside my hostel, where, around 5 or 6, people just start bringing out six-packs of Toohey's and chill for the night. The plan was working out beautifully until around 9:30 when the hostel receptionist announced that there was $100 bar tab at the nearby Empire Hotel (two notes -- for you non-Aussies, hotel=bar and for you Aussies, the Empire, in case you forgot, is the sister club to the Coogee Palace). Since only six of us were keen on going out, it was setting up to be a good night. The plan was to drain the tab and go home. That didn't really work. I wound up pounding jugs with two girls, Lena and Monica, who recently graduated from Texas, an English girl Claire, an English guy Nick and a German girl, Judy, who had a handshake like the jaws of death.

One of the goofy, endearing things about Australia is the culture lapse between here and the States. In general, they're still living out the 80s, but popular music has a three-month lapse. So right now, Gold Digger is all the rage. Unfortunately, so is that idiotic Lump song by the Black Eyed Peas (you know, "My lump, my lump, my lovely lump" -- there, now all you have the song stuck in your head too. Welcome to my hell). Honestly, going through that craze once was more than enough. A good chunk of the hip-hop they played, aside from the Black Eyed Peas, was stuff I hadn't heard for a solid 10 years. And for many of the songs, there was a damn good reason for that.

Just before the end of the night, I also had one of the most random reunions ever. When I was in Paihia, I wound up making friends with an Irish girl, Sharon, on my dolphin swimming trip. I gave her my email address because I had a few pictures she wanted and we were set to get into Sydney within one day of each other. As I only now know, a few days after I met her, her campervan was broken in to in New Zealand and all her stuff was stolen. Basically, that was supposed to be the end of our friendship since my contact info was in her bag and I had no way of getting in touch with her. Until I bumped into her playing pool at a club in an area of the city nowhere near where she is staying.

And to put this in perspective, some quick background on Sydney. As you all know, Aussies like a good drink here and there, and they've established a few places where they can acquire one. You could go bar-hopping like a maniac every night and probably go nearly a year before hitting every pub in the greater Sydney area. If you could've placed a bet on us winding up at the same pub at the same time, you'd be very rich right now.

Anyway, you're probably bored by now, and since I didn't make it back until 3:30 (while managing to avoid getting propositioned by any hookers) I'm starting to feel a little drowsy. I have a feeling this pattern will continue itself straight through the New Year. If I'm still alive.

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