We flew to Sydney Wednesday. Daniel and Julian had checked us across a row of four seats, with a spare seat in the middle. It did not fill. We were excited to fly; I hungered for a holiday after having worked a three session day on Tuesday. We had four days planned in Sydney, centred on the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Circular Quay.
Dad picked us up from the airport. We had landed half an hour early but Dad had anticipated this and had arrived early. Unfortunately something midline under the front bonnet sprung a leak and water was dripping out from under the engine. By the time we reached Anna’s house in Bondi Junction we had already stopped at a service station to refill the reservoir. Our initial plans to drop Julian off in Wooloomooloo, then head to Chinatown for dinner, were scratched and we whipped out our Opal cards and walked to the train instead.
We went to Golden Century Seafood Restaurant in Sussex Street for dinner. Dave met us there. Thankfully he had arrived early to our intial meeting time and put his name down at the door. We still had to wait another hour. I’ve not seen it so busy since I was a teenager. Some things haven’t changed, including the roaming photographer who takes a Polaroid then puts the photo into a souvenir keyring. I have one from more than twenty years ago. Aunty Ella has another where there is a dismembered head of my step-sister added on to the photo, floating behind the other smiling faces, like that shot from the Queen music video. We ate then caught the train home.
New Year’s Eve day we wandered about the city gathering the last of the things we needed for our booked events: we bought short shorts on Oxford St for our New Year’s Day night dance party and we browsed suit jackets in the QVB. We also walked around Circular Quay so Julian could tick off a few tourist attractions. By 14:00 the queue to get to the Botanic Gardens and Opera House was already back up to the wharfs. It’s not a good idea to try to walk around Circular Quay on NYE. Best avoided.
We ate lunch by the waterfront. It was warm. A young Chinese family camped out in a blanket by the railing was creative and tied their blanket over their heads to the railings on either side and created a fort, their young son thrilled with the concept. A fat man sat perched against the tree, his chest curled up to his belly like a 12-week fetus with a relatively tiny head. I was glad to leave, to head back to base for a quick nap.
We booked tickets in September for an event a the Museum of Contemporary Art sculpture terrace, by Points of Difference. It had been recommended by a friend of a friend in Melbourne. When had first checked out the website we had balked at the cost. Why would anybody pay so much for one night!? Then, when I scoped out the venue while visiting Dad, I realized the view, the buffet dinner, and all-inclusive drinks for a capped capacity of 300, was worth it. And it was. I needn’t have stressed about not having a dinner jacket (dress code was “gay lounge” – whatever that means) or Simon about not having brought dress pants; there were men in shorts and men with Hawaiin shirts! The night passed too quickly. After the 21:00 fireworks the buffet was served and we only had got around to finishing eating and chatting when midnight was rung in. The event ended at 02:00 and people either wandered home or partied on. I walked back to Martin Place and caught the train back to Bondi Junction, along with hundreds of other people.
New Year’s Day was warm and we went to Bondi, along with the rest of Sydney. The buses along Oxford St didn’t even stop as they had already filled up in the city. Well, they weren’t actually full. I’ve been to India. The buses in India are full. These buses just had all seats occupied and a smattering of standing customers at the front of the bus. Most had space at the back. In Toronto the streetcar drivers are forever goading customers to, “Move back, to the end of the car!” In Australia, just like our policy in refugees, the bus drivers make a sad face, throw their hands up in the air and shake their heads, “Sorry! We’re full!” I felt chagrined for my country. Any tourist would stand, as I was, incredulous at the wasted space and opportunity at the back of the bus.
Thankfully, standing opposite a bus depot, a bus driver on foot either to or from work overheard me complain to Daniel that it was futile waiting for the bus and gave us a useful tip: catch the relatively empty 389 that skirts a few blocks from Bondi and walk the rest. The beach was crawling and a big rip tore through the centre of the waves. A lifesaver on a megaphone periodically made announcements about the rip, while on camera for that reality TV show, with a most of the sound being inaudible and carried off by the strong breeze. We only seam to our ankles as the water was freezing cold. Western Australian beaches are actually way better than Sydney’s.
Most of our group had tickets to a leather/fetish themed dance party that was originally on Oxford St but moved at the last minute to a bar on Pitt St. Kevin had forgot to buy a ticket and it had sold out. Dave didn’t want to go, so made other plans. Any dance party is fun when you’re with a group of good friends and the more alternative crowd the more friendly and relaxed the other punters are. Just like the night before we needn’t have worried so much about what to wear. There was none of the pretence of Arq. Well, maybe a little. It was freezing at first but, as the venue filled and the air conditioning broke, it soon became a sauna. The bar service was rapid so we kept well hydrated. We all had an excellent night, different to the spectacle from the precious night. It was another late night.
Saturday we wandered around the Rocks, after a late breakfast joined by Daniel’s university classmate, Neha. We had some really yummy food. The service was weird; when I walked back to the counter to purchase a second coffee (order and pay at the counter, not unusual for Australia) I handed the man my credit card to Tap and Go and he literally dropped it like it had burned his hand, stammering something about a minimum $10 spend. I had just paid five times the minimum spend for my breakfast and now I had to peel my card off the counter, as if it were covered in Ebola. When I picked out the folded banknote from my wallet/phone case and handed that over instead I was not handed any change: he placed it in front of him on his side of the counter. Perhaps he wants to work at a bank. I walked back to my table bewildered.
The weekend markets at the Rocks were crowded. I hate crowds. Julian found a present for his Mum and we made it to one end of the Harbour Bridge. My feet ached already before we walked back across Circular Quay, around to the Opera House and then through the Botanic Gardens, where we had coffee with Vaughan and Albert. The ibis are tagged with numbers, which suggests you can select which one you want for dinner. I’ll have Number 34, thanks. The Wollemi Pine, some important plant, was not a Norfolk pine and it was not a hundred metres tall. I chose random plants to make up incredulous lies to try and fool Julian, such as, “Don’t touch that, it is covered in microscopic poisonous barbs under the leaves!” but smiling and stifling a laugh at the same time gave it away. I then did not think to question when Julian announced that he’d heard of bottlebrush trees at Pharmacy School because Aboriginals ate it to lower their cholesterol. I couldn’t fathom how they identified cholesterol without laboratory equipment and wondered if they had measured changes in cholesterol deposits in the bags under their eyes, only to turn around to see Daniel and Julian laughing at me. So bottle brushes don’t contain an organic analogue to atorvastatin after all. We have been mercilessly teasing Julian about his Canadian accent since forever so it was my turn.
Dave had booked dinner on Oxford St at an expensive but intermittently woeful restaurant that had mostly good but intermittently disappointing food. For instance: when I ordered a potato mash side I explicitly asked to confirm that it had no truffle oil, because the taste of truffles makes me gag. The waiter assured me it did not. He did not tell me that the zucchini flowers I had ordered for a starter had a surprising taste of truffle oil! Dan ate the rest of my starter and I had extra bread. At both mains and dessert only six dishes came out. On a table of eight. Our patience wore thin but was massaged by wine and cocktails. Most of the staff, the mâitré d’ in particular, were so professional and polished that what should have been big grievances became small and we left happy. Mostly happy. The chocolate mousse I ordered was not as good as what my sister’s Dad made my Mum every year for her birthday and I liked Albert’s passion fruit tart better.
Kevin insisted to the table that we go out for a drink after dinner so we all did. Perhaps he thinks his assertion amongst friends is motivational and leadership. After two late nights in a row I found it belligerent and irritating. Standing at the side in the crowd at Stonewall, after having trudged up and down the stairs that are dotted with blackened chewgum, holding the worst mohito I’ve ever tasted, I realized that I was not obliged to entertain my friends every night all night. What I was experiencing was the peer pressure I had been warned about in High School but didn’t have the friends to be pressured by and I could quite easily politely decline and leave, as Albert has discovered how to do. So I did. Albert shared an Uber with Dan and I, so soon we were happily in bed, asleep. And the rest of our group went on to dance at Arq and then Palms until it closed the next morning.
We packed the Manly ferry and a walk from Manly to Shelley Beach in our last morning. I finally got to see my sister and rapidly growing nephew, wrapped to either my sister’s front or back by a length of versatile fabric. He was unusually placid, which made breakfast in a busy beachfront cafe a dream (Miranda lined up halved grapes in a replenishing row of three that he happily are with one hand, while clenching to a piece of pear with the other). It had started out cool enough to wear cargo pants but soon was warm and humid so we changed into swimmers and a tank top. Dad and Aunty Ella finally joined us mid walk (we had failed to meet them yesterday as their laconic movement towards our destination failed to keep up with us moving and we all gave up). The rain forecast for the afternoon broke at half one and came down heavy.
When we walked with Julian back to his room in Wooloomooloo it was drenching. He pointed to a street sign that said, “Haig La”, and asked, “How do you pronounce that?” I replied, “Hayg?” He remained confused, “… But is it, ‘Hayg-Lah’?” In Canada a lane is abbreviated to, “Ln”. We’ll never let him forget it, adding it to the list of things he pronounces different to us, like ornge, straw beary, Floorda, and Eyre Cairnada. Australian English swallows the ends of most words so hearing almost every letter pronounced sounds excessive to us. We don’t even call people by their full given names, just shorten it into something monosyllabic.
Our Uber driver to the airport was an oddball. I wouldn’t describe to customers that I only started six weeks ago and had accidentally driven wedding guests across the Harbour Bridge by accident, twice, then taken a group of cellists the wrong way up the Cahill Expressway exit ramp. I’d just concentrate on the navigation and drive. Julian and Albert both unhelpfully fell asleep. I was left to politely make conversation with the bizarre character I increasingly had wished I’d never met.