Avoiding the kitsch in Sydney

Trip Start Jul 02, 2004
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Trip End Sep 10, 2004


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Thursday, August 5, 2004

Well Sydney was an experience and a half. Only because it's probably the most cosmopolitan and modern city I've seen on my travels outside London. In fact, it was a lot like London. So much so that during one of the lunchtimes I spent there, I went into the Central Business District and just observed hundreds of office workers talking on their mobiles, drinking their Starbucks coffee and wearing thick sunglassess. Pretty much like what one would see in the City of London.

But seriously, Sydney is the place to be for touristy culture but has so much kitsch stalls and shops selling all types of Australian souvenirs like replica models of the Sydney Opera House to tacky T-Shirts saying "I stood on the other side of the world in Sydney". I mean who would want to buy that stuff?

Three days in Sydney staying in the upmarket area of Potts Point was comfortable though the hotel was just dingy and cold. Still you can't have it all and it wasn't as if I was going to spend all my time in the non-existent lobby talking to the geriatric receptionist there.

Circular Quay
Circular Quay is the place to visit when in Sydney, the area houses the famouse quay leading out to Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Rocks and of course the famous Sydney Opeara House with all the array of shops, cinemas, cafe's and restaurants.

It was really busy there all the time and not surprisingly, I saw an Aborigine mock-display of dances. It was probably the closest I'll ever come to see that kind of stuff but what really took me back was that those people had to go into town to make money.

Aborigines have been kicked off their land by the white colonials in the 1900's. Pretty sad really, so many of them live in poverty now in Oz - even sadder. What was nice was that as they were finishing off a dance and I was leaving, I saw a AU$5 note on the floor, a group of Japanese tourists saw it as well and for a split second, everyone kind of looked at it wondering what to do and who would claim it. I just picked it up, pointed to the Aborigines and put it in their donation box, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Now a colonialist wouldn't have done that, they would have just pocketed the money and claimed the land as theirs. So even in the 21st Century, the Aborigines had the right to claim a small part of Sydney as their own.

Museum of Contemporary Art
Free to get in thanks to the Australian incumbent phone operator Telstra. But the Biennale of Sydney was a bi-annual art exhibit featuring purpose made works of art that were being housed in the MCA and other art galleries in the city. Really fantastic though. I think my favourite was 'Pessimism No More' which was a set of classroom tables each with a piece of cheese on top of them. Really abstract but kind of made me think.

Have a look at some of the exhibits:
www.biennaleofsydney.com.au/downloads/ biennaleofsydney_exhibitionguide.pdf (1.4Mb)

Sydney Opera House
I thought this was a really fantastic thing to see. On the first day in Sydney, I took a harbour-sight cruise at 1030 around the harbour and it went past the Sydney Opera House. It was only until I saw the opera house that it really kicked in just how far away I was from home, because other than that, I'd only ever seen the opera house on postcards and TV programs and if you'd asked me if I was going to ever go to Australia last year, my answer would have been "no"!

But having seen it and just how big it really is, I felt just happy I'd made it this far as this was the furthest point from London I would be. 17,000Km away to be precise. So what better way to experience the opera house than to see an opera there. I saw Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) and Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Monteverdi) on one night and 'Verbal: Two Strange Acts with No Words'.

Both were really well produced, and I think I liked the Verbal performance as it featured a mime by a disabled man called 'Cow' which was really inspirational since it was just so abstract yet the audience was laughing with the disabled man and not at him. The other performance of Verbal was called 'The Collapsable Man' which featured another guy though not disabled but who could do really good acrobats and played the part of a mad-scientist/lecturer. Really abstract again but thought-provoking.

Supersize Me and a pledge for life
I saw this film at the Dandy cinema on Circular Quay. It's about this guy called Morgan Spurlock who lived on McDonalds for a whole month straight. Really entertaining and if you're planning on going on a diet any time soon, this is the film to see because it WILL put you off McDonalds for life.

Spurlock gained 20 pounds, his cholesterol levels shot up, he became lethargic and it took him 9 months to return his body to normal! All from eating McDonalds!

And finally...
3 days in Sydney was nowhere near enough to experience the charm, kitsch and the concrete jungle that Sydney is. And as I got reminded plenty of times, "I was there at the wrong time of the year..." yes, yes, it was winter too so Sydney was in hibernation mode. But as I got advised, you need to see a city or country enough so that you haven't seen everything, and that I did with Sydney :-)
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