Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Making Tracks in Sydney: Part 2

Very, very early the next morning I found my way through the tangle of Sydney public transportation the Sydney Fish Market. Sonia met me there and we walked around the entire building, which spanned a couple of city blocks, finally threading our way through a busy parking lot filled with burly men delivering fish, to the entrance. It wasn't well-signed, but we found the area where bidders could sit and watch the products reeled off, and got comfortable.

It was a Dutch Auction, which means that the starting price is actually way too high, and bidders buzz in like on a game show when they see a price they're willing to pay-- and hope they're the first to do so. We were told by a very nice man working at the auction (a bidder himself) that this is to make things "as fair as possible" because no one can drive the price up on purpose, although Sonia (who studied economics) had some reasons I didn't really understand for feeling skeptical about this. The bidder pointed out all of the different areas of the fish warehouse to us, explained about the various abbreviations the auctionmaster was using, and was generally very nice. I found the auction to be quite exciting. There was constant movement far below us on the floor as new variants of fish, squid, prawns, lobsters arrived and were sorted; layered on this was the buzz of people checking out sorted product; and on top of it all swas the constant drone of the auctionmaster selling another 15 kilos of King Prawns or swordfish.

View from the bidding platform at Sydney Fish Market

I had agreed to meet several couch surfers in a hip area of Sydney called Newtown for coffee, but the fish market started (and ended) so early that I had a couple of hours to kill. I got some breakfast in another part of the market's cavernous building, surrounded by fish traders getting off work. There, I discovered a quirk of Australian culture-- if you buy a "sausage roll" you get a fried sausage wrapped in something like a spring roll wrapper. But if you buy an "egg and bacon" roll you get eggs, bacon (which in Australia is actually more like fatty fried ham), and barbecue sauce on a sub roll. Go figure.

I decided to spend my remaining time finding my way to the Town Hall area, which has lovely architecture. As previously mentioned, I spent a little while looking around and sitting on the steps listening to "I Come From the Land Down Under" by Men at Work and feeling too clever and snarky for my own good. I should mention, however, that I have since had my comeuppance. As it turns out Australians love this song. I heard it several times during my travels-- a couple times on the radio, once at a public pool in Brisbane, and once performed by a two-man didjeridoo-and-guitar band in Airlie Beach (but that comes later.) My previous thought had been that it was too gimmicky and silly, but I guess it's kind of like how I love the song "Dirty Water" by The Standells (which, for those not in the know, is about Boston.)

Sydney Town Hall

As it turned out, the Newtown coffee excursion was quite the affair. We ended up 13 in all, from all over the world and a few Aussies as well. Newtown is a vaguely alternative-flavored neighborhood (my host mother told me to look out for "those gothics") with lots of coffee shops, funky bars, and vintage clothing stores. We took advantage of one of the more spacious establishments, then after a light lunch a chunk of us broke off to head to Manly Beach.

If you're not familiar with it, Sydney Harbor has a crazy amount of nooks and crannies, and it makes use of an extensive ferry network to connect by water what would take a long time to travel between on land. This includes several beautiful beaches (Bondi is probably the most famous). We chose Manly because we'd heard the ferry ride was quite nice and none of us had been on the Sydney ferry before. The day had been overcast, but the sun started to burn through the clouds as the little old boat made its way across the water. I put on suntan lotion (as usual, under the ozone layer hole it was a losing battle) and admired amazing views of the bridge/Opera house from the water.

No seriously, how beautiful is this building?

The walk through the center of Manly town to the beach had a lovely carnival atmosphere, and we enjoyed lounging on the beach people watching, chatting, and dipping our toes in the surf. When we got hungry, instead of getting individual ice creams at the inflated prices along the boardwalk we went into the nearest supermarket and purchased a two-liter container of ice cream and 6 spoons. We took the spoils of this victory to the wharf overlooking the Manly lagoon. Life was pretty good.

Enjoying ice cream on the pier, communal style. From left: Kailash (India), Wil (England), Nicole (New Zealand), Sofia (USA), Damian (Australia)

We were all enjoying each other too much to finish so early in the afternoon. It was a Friday and we joined in the post-work festivities back on the mainland, making our way to The Hart pub. There we feasted on a free "sausage sizzler" and I had my customary cider (this variety called Pipsqueak, which I think is a pretty awesome name for a cider.) I don't know if I have mentioned here before that Australians love their sausages (I've heard they're called 'snags' sometimes but never heard someone say it to my face.) Usually they are prepared on a "barbie" with grilled onions or peppers and served on white bread (not rolls) with "tomato sauce," which is like ketchup but sweeter.

We stayed at The Hart well into the night, but jet lag was still playing games with me and I had to leave early. It was lucky I did. Remember before I mentioned that I was accosted by cute tween America-loving goths? Well, the following scene took place when I stepped onto the Burwood line at Town Hall station:

I was bleary eyed, trying to stay awake and discern whether the train I boarded would, indeed, be stopping at Burwood, when two goth kids dressed all in black with lots of eye make up, identical streaks of deep pink in their hair, and five or six piercings almost at random on their faces, accosted me. They were decorated so similarly that I wondered if they were siblings of boyfriend and girlfriend.

They yelled at me (but friendly-like) across the carriage, "Are you American!?!?" then trotted up to be closer. Without waiting for me to respond, the girl exclaimed, "If I go to America I want to go to ___, Ohio " (here she named a town so teeny and random I can't remember it now; she wanted to go because is the home town of her favorite emo band.) She considered for a moment. "Or Disneyland."

The two of them looked at me with fascination and wonder, as if I was an alien, as if they had never met an American before. Maybe they hadn't, but this was the first time in this country I had been treated as such an anomaly. They asked me maybe 10 questions in a row about life in America, rapid fire. I tried to rev my sleepy brain and answer.

" I want to go to America so bad," the girl said again. She giggled. Almost no pause, and then: "Have you tried Vegemite?"
"She shouldn't," said her brother/boyfriend, "She won't like it."
"But it's so Australian!" she shot back.
"Well, I'm pretty Australian and I don't like it."

They got off at the next stop, waving at me and telling me to say hi to Ohio for them, leaving a burst of Aussie goth perkiness in their wake. I could see their magenta streaks bouncing through the crowd at the station as they headed toward the stairs.

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