Monday, July 2, 2012

Sydney & Canberra

 The thing that really gets me about Australia is the birds. It’s winter, it’s cold, most of the trees and all of the architecture are pretty standard generic modern Euro-American. If you’re not paying attention, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a town on the east coast somewhere, or maybe in England. And then you hear a squawk and there’s a parrot flying past your head, or an ibis eyeing your pie crumbs. Okay not an actual parrot, a sulphur-crested cockatoo or a galah or a rosella. Close enough. All of which are gorgeous, by the way, even the magpies. And they’re constantly singing (or squawking, in the case of the cockatoos), way more so than I’m used to in a US city. One of them, I’ve yet to figure out which (ETA: the magpie), sounds exactly like the beep-boop noise computers and robots made when they talked back in movies from the ‘80s. Taken together, it’s a techno-jungle out there – aurally, at least.

Last I posted I was in Auckland eating mediocre pie and getting over a cold. That Saturday morning I got a 6am Supershuttle pickup to the airport to fly to Sydney. The kid across the aisle from me started the flight by puking. Other than that it was delayed but uneventful. Once there I dropped my bags at Eco-House – I was staying in their yoga room for the night, way more interesting than a hostel – and continued down Jen’s list of Things To Do In Sydney. Eat a meat pie from Harry’s Café de Wheels: check. Actually, it was from a kiosk in the train station, but it was Harry’s brand. I got a bacon & cheese pie, which it turns out is just a usual meat pie with bacon and cheese added. Kind of a salt bomb, but totally delicious. Might have something to do with the bacon & cheese, on both fronts. Score one for Oz over NZ. (Take that, Rationalists!)

Walk two miles to the harbor: check. Scenic ferry ride to the zoo: check. Actually see the zoo: well, no; it was an hour before closing time by that point and I didn’t think I’d get my $44 (!?!) worth. But there’s a lovely bushwalk around Bradleys Head starting there, so I strolled through a few kilometers of Australian bush unchanged in the last two hundred years, except for the view of downtown Sydney you get over the harbor, and the occasional gum wrapper. The view’s stunning. No really exciting wildlife, but plenty of swooping, cacophonous birds.

Ferry back to the harbor, followed by a trip up to the Sky Tower Eye: check. Tallest building in Sydney, with exorbitant ticket prices and more spectacular views from the observation deck up top. I missed sunset, but the night view was still great. Then soup dumplings voted the tastiest in the world – maybe not the tastiest, but pretty darn tasty – followed by the monorail (check) to Chinatown (check), where I had Uighur food for dinner. And then back to Eco-House to crash on the futon. (Ridiculously sore feet: check.)

Day 2 in Sydney was lower-key, with some overpriced dim sum and a stroll through Paddy’s Markets, the cheap-o tourist souvenir market in Chinatown. Right next to the knockoff Uggs and boomerangs most stalls were selling kangaroo paws made into keychains and backscratchers, which might be the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. Also kangaroo scrotums made into keychains or, for an extra $10, a larger pair attached to a beer opener. I’d like to know who came up with that idea.

That’s the other thing down here – they like to make things out of marsupials. I’ve seen possum merino sweaters and kangaroo-leather purses. I’m just waiting for the Koala-fur beer cozies. I will say I sprang for a $3 jar of emu-oil hand cream. Seemed appropriate, all things considered.

It was a 3-hour bus trip south to Canberra, where I was picked up by Di, the woman I’m staying with there. She’s an older lady with affiliations in Music and Linguistics at the university, voluble as anyone I’ve met, and a fantastic cook. At ANU they gave me a lovely sunny office with a window, just around the corner from Simon Greenhill, who I’m there to work with. They also gave me an ANU email address, which seems silly since it expires in a few weeks, but I appreciate the gesture. So I’ve spent the last week meeting people there and working with Simon on my phylogenetics project, which is what sent me over to this part of the world in the first place. I have to say working with him has been fantastic – the models I’m working with are fairly complicated, and his explanations of how things work have been exponentially clearer than any of the articles out there about them. (Seriously, Simon, if somehow you’re reading this: write a book.) I had lunch with the Australianists and photocopied for hours at the archive and went to the national museum. (The point goes to New Zealand on this one. You’ve got a 12-minute intro video on the history of Australia and you give 2 minutes to 60,000 years of Aboriginal history and 10 to 200 years of European colonization? Really?) Finally on Saturday Di drove me out to the farmers’ market, where I would have bought out the whole place if I hadn’t been leaving, and up Mt. Ainslie for another view.

 And this morning I got a 4:15am cab ride out to the airport to fly to Bali for the ICAL conference, and on the way we passed a big grey kangaroo sitting and munching by the side of the road. Check.


  1. *blinks* I don't think the kangaroo paw/scrotum jewellery was there last time I went..