Sunday, December 28, 2008

As for the Surprise...

OK. This is the post I was holding out on. I had to get all the beaches down before I backtracked to tell you about the big surprise halfway down the coast between Coogee and Bondi. Right next to the Charming Clovelly Bowling Club the trail rounds a corner, pictured above and then deadends, oh the puns, into Waverley Cemetery. IT IS HUGE. Pictures don't do it justice. It's staggering, and the quality of the tombstones is timeless. Some Italian families even have their own private catacombs. Mafia perhaps?

I couldn't stop taking pictures. If I wanted to be buried, I would want to be buried here. In fact there is a number you can call if you are interested. Just dial +61 for Australia first. I enjoyed seeing how many living and breathing people pass along the path that bisects the cemetery. Joggers, strollers, couples, the whole gamut, all pass through this place in their routine of healthy living among the strongest example I've ever seen of healthy death!

Any photography teacher will tell you that taking photographs in a cemetery is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this is a great place for memories. Not only of those loved and lost, but of the striking location where they lie along the amazing trail hugging Sydney's eastern suburbs. The trail is actually undergoing renovation along Waverley Cemetery, so chances are the walk will be even better.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bondi Superfly

Bondi is by far the most popular beach of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, and so I wasn't sweating it too much. My attention is not needed or missed. When we visited it was clear why surfers prefer Bondi. The size of the bay is easily twice that of Coogee (see map in post below), and bigger waves come in for them to, well, surf. More hostels, more traffic, more everything. I am not from the school of more is better. To quote Linklater: "It's quality not quantity, man."

I did find quality in the typical Sydney stuff. The sunset was awesome, and I love how the weather on the coast of Sydney, even on the hottest days, cools down to a Southern California chill. It reminds me of desert weather in Lubbock, Texas. We walked through the neighborhood and I found the apartment I would have with the right combination of income and timing. It reminded me of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. (Unfortunately the part that collapsed.)

We ended the night at a nice little bar with tapas and a balcony on the second floor overlooking the beach. It is a choice location and we hear they have a live DJ on Sunday nights. I told our waiter the empty DJ booth made me want to cry.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beauty, Beaches and ... Bowling?

View Larger Map
I wanted to employ the help of Google Maps for this one. We (that's Jamie and me, not the Royal We) have been walking along the path between Coogee Beach and Bondi Beach (that's Bond-Eye) for a nice view of the coast. It's gorgeous. The path traces the public land lining the coast of these densely populated beaches. North of Coogee comes little Clovelly, then Bronte, before landing in Bondi, the mother of all Eastern Sydney beaches. Here leaving Coogee:

The trail passes beautiful homes, green parks, the Clovelly Bowling Club (it's a little different in Australia than in the States). The beach at Clovelly is a funny little thing. If you are looking at your Google Map you'll find where the ocean grew an extra little finger into the coast and, voila! Clovelly is a beautifully shaded bay with the deepest, skinniest beach I've ever seen. That reminds me of Jamie. She is very deep, and also very skinny. Here they are together:

After Clovelly there is a HUGE surprise that we weren't expecting, and it's so photographically rich I've saved it for another post. Let's just say it's THE LAST THING you'd expect. Continuing on ... the trail happens upon Bronte. Each time we rounded a turn the view became more dramatic. When we walked into Bronte there was actually a little girl's birthday party, complete with ABBA and Cindy Lauper bouncing into the airwaves. I didn't get evidence of that.

To be honest with you it got dark after Bronte and we ended up taking the bus to Bondi the next day, see next post. We tend to start our outdoor escapades later in the day to avoid the sun. It beats down on you here like a solar-masochistic dominatrix without the hand of the ozone layer to block its painful paddling. With pain like that, selling the Australians on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is like selling ice to Eskimos. Or Inuits. I'm sorry.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Government House, Sydney

At the top of the Moore Stairs is a park. Within that park is a trail. At the end of that trail is a small neo-gothic castle. This is the Government House of New South Wales. It's like the Governor's mansion for the state of New South Wales, though since 1996 it no longer serves as a residence. It is a rare breed in Australia of a strictly functional government building that is also completely open to the public every day of the week. Unless there is scheduled business of signing documents, hosting international leaders, or important receptions, you can walk right in for a half-hour tour. (As long as you don't take pictures, don't touch anything, don't lean on anything, don't sit on anything, and leave your backpack at the ticket office.)

This impressive building and its grounds were not always public, and in fact it took almost a hundred years for the building to be built. Taking the tour was an amazing history lesson. Our tour guide pointed out that British interest in Australia is a direct result of the United States' Declaration of Independence. Australia received all of the Common Wealth attention (and prisoners) that the United States denounced. I love Wikipedia which has a great History of Australia page under constant vigilance to increase the level of detail in this country's history prior to British colonization.

That being said, I'm even more proud of being a United States Citizen, because Australia is a great place. I'm glad we could all help make it happen. As I stood in the gardens looking around the sights are amazing. Sydney Opera House to the north, Sydney Harbor and sailboats to the east, lush gardens and gum trees to the south, Gothic revival castle to the west. This is an amazing destination to take in the process of Australia's colonial and post-industrial development. Especially on the way out, when the old and new colonial architecture dominate the landscape, side by side.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Moore Stairs

Rising up from the Sydney Harbor in between ultra modern apartment buildings and shops is an anachronistic brownstone staircase. Like C.S. Lewis's wardrobe, these stairs have an allure to climb away from the rest of the world and go into hiding.

The stairs are a relic from the days of Sydney as an offshore prison for the UK and I wouldn't be surprised if they were chiseled by indentured hands. This doesn't change the liberating nature of the destination they provide, as the top of the staircase opens up into a massive park overlooking the harbor, the Opera House, and the impressive skyline of the Sydney Central Business District.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sydney Opera House by Night

After months and months of seeing the Sydney Opera House featured in every DVD about Australia I could find before making the move here, it seemed to be blown out of proportion. I though I had tired of seeing it; in the scores of images I'd seen already, the Opera House was ubiquitous.

Seeing it face to face, especially at night, I was humbled. Watching birds swarm the white sea shell exteriors, catching bugs amidst the lights, they reminded me of bats swarming the tower of a cathedral. The design is so imaginative, I recalled the feeling of awe I had in Anton Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Passing along the backside of the Opera House is quite funny. It's the side you can't see from the Harbor Bridge, and the walkway is very narrow. Walking along this narrow path with a high wall obstructing the view of the eggshell exterior above, it looks like any Convention Center in the United States. If someone were dropped on that little walkway, they would have no idea they were in Sydney until they rounded the corner to see the stairway stretching above the main entrance.

I have quite a reverence for this icon after seeing it face to face. On the way from our walk around the Opera House Jamie and I noticed a park just across the road. We went on a walk to explore that area the following day, which is the topic of the next post.

Melbourne's Laneway Culture

Melbourne, pronounced by Australians as "Melbin", is known as Australia's cultural capital. Ten years ago the city provided money to turn the narrow "laneways" between high-rises into cafe's, galleries, and boutiques to complement the city's covered arcades like the ones in European destinations like Milan, Italy. I had a chance to visit Melbourne's laneways and see how they contribute to Melbourne's identity.

The success of laneway culture has caused Sydney to provide similar funding for laneway development, and recently a Laneway Festival has been created across Australia. The feeling I got from walking around and stopping for coffee throughout the network of cafes reminded me of other cities like Prague and Florence with older infrastructure.

I find it interesting that the buildings on either side of these laneways are often ultramodern and have been given face-lifts so often that the age of the block seems all but lost. The laneways, however, have received no such reconstructive surgery and shine in the brilliance of their antiquity. In Melbourne's case these alleys can date back to Melbourne's origins as early as 1835.

Who founded Melbourne in 1835, you ask? You're gonna love the answer:

Batman! I'm not kidding! Check it out...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chinese Fortune Teller, part 2

The first time I visited Cloud 9, the highest bar in the World atop the Grand Hyatt Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, and the Chinese fortune teller who roams its tables, it was New Year's 2007. I hadn't bought my house in Durham, NC yet, and I didn't know Jamie existed. The fortune teller told me that my future was in Shanghai and the Asia Pacific Rim, and that I would be married in October of 2008.

My birth in the year of the horse is auspicious for leadership in China, as many government leaders are horses in the Chinese Zodiac. In the Astrological Zodiac I am a Virgo, and little did I know in 2007 that by the time of this trip in 2008 I would have met another Virgo, Jamie, and find myself in the same corner of Cloud 9 two years later. It's my hope to work in sustainable energy in China amidst other dreams, and as fortune would have it, I just might have my way.

Jamie's fortune was interesting: She was described as a river; going with the flow, powerful but meandering energy. What's amazing about this is her interest in the Amazon in South America. Additionally he said Jamie would be in the hospital soon, but it wouldn't be a big deal. This freaked us out a little, but as I write this in Melbourne, Australia we have just visited the hospital this morning after Jamie had a gran mal seizure.

This was just another day in the life of an epileptic, but it was my first time to witness a gran mal and I was freaked out enough to follow directions from our host in Melbourne, (who luckily happens to be a Neurologist), and rush Jamie to the hospital. Luckily her fortune didn't end there and she has a year ahead of Double Happiness. 2009 for Jamie is a year when everything is said to line up, and all opportunities will unfold into lifelong resources, resulting in the biggest opportunity of her life when she turns 40.

With the stability of Jamie's health unquestioned, it's fun now to look back and take our hospital trip as reason to value our fortune teller's predictions. That said I'm really excited about business school given what I was told. When choosing between working internationally in sustainable energy consulting or partnering with investors to form an international cafe and media franchise, I wanted his opinion. It didn't come out right away; we had to consult the cards. After I dug for the hardest cards to find in a deck spread out before us, it was determined that I could do both, but the cards favored the sustainable energy gig.

It was cool to see the six cards face down, three for each choice, and learn the meaning behind the Chinese character on each and the value it had between 1 and 54, 1 being the most favorable. The cards for sustainable energy told of work with government and success with sustained effort. The numbers prioritized this over the work with an international cafe, which could also be successful if pursued on the side though it wouldn't live up to my expectations.

It's all news that my colleagues at AGSM would tell me without consulting the cards, but I enjoy Cloud 9 immensely and thank Kevin Low for his flawless translation while my Mandarin still sucks. Plus, those with business knowledge may have not have been so generous as the fortune teller. When noting that I would go through a great transition through 2010 with a lifestyle of international income afterwards, he added that I would be like a high-flying James Bond type! Sounds good to me. I enjoy the view from Cloud 9.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lounge 18 in Shanghai

Riding the coattails of my esteemed colleague Kevin Low, Jamie and I arrived at Lounge 18 in Shanghai, right along the Bund overlooking the Pudong financial district along the Huang Pu River. This place is awesome. On the inside it has the opulent colonial architecture from the Bund's heyday in the 1920's. Large lofted ceilings and sumptuous furniture cradled us as we sipped our burgundy and settled into conversation across our table.

We punctuated our speech with comments about how amazing the music was. I wish my blog were sophisticated enough to play a selection in the background while you read, but I'll do my best to describe it. I don't know if House Music means anything to you, but to be even more specific this was a breed of Deep House, my favorite. A great example is yours for the taking at the Deep House Cat Podcast.

To do this post justice, just download a podcast above and go to the Lounge 18 website. The DJ, Paul Cayrol, did such an amazing job all night that I had to get his card after dancing all night to add his brilliance to my bag of tricks! I was compelled to go up and shake his hand personally when he put on a Deep House remix of Obama's "Yes We Can" speech.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wyclef Jean Sings in Chinese!

Jamie and I had a nice little time with our friends in Shanghai at a promotional Hennessey event last night. Headlining was Jay Chou, a Chinese "R&B" artist with number one singles in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea who he was! Those three places are a sizeable chunk of the world's population, thanks to China of course. Xie Xie, Chonguo!

At the bottom of the listing was, can you believe it, a very humble and sportsmanlike Wyclef Jean! I think he was paying his dues before the Chinese masses, hopefully to be rewarded with more market share, and rightfully so. I was jumping up and down, putting my hands in the air with all my heart, and feeling for him when nobody else was able to respond to his commands to do so in English! I doubt he'd had to work a crowd that hard since before the Fugees! He had to resort to, I'm not kidding, doing acrobatics to get some universal crowd response!

After Wyclef's back-handspring I thought a lot through the performance of how these two artists could better support each other. When Jay Chou came out, he gave no credit to Wyclef; one of his mentors who created the genre he is so privileged to dominate in Asia. At the end they did perform together, as pictured below, and ended the show with a hearty one armed man hug, but I want more!

That's what I live for, to see humans, artists especially, of different cultures share the same values on the same level. As my tour guide back in Kolkata, Asim, told me when we spoke eye to eye as he pointed back and forth between our faces, "Same, Same, Same."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shanghai and Dry

After a journey that began Monday morning in the United States' Capital of DC, Jamie and I have perched at a coffee shop off of the People's Square (Renmin Square) in Shanghai.
We ended up spending the night in Tokyo, which was cool, but not part of the original plan and kept my friend and host in Shanghai wondering where we were.

I'm in dire need of a shower and a change of clothes, but the employees of Java Detour here have been more than accommodating. One of them even let me use her cell phone to announce our arrival! Chinese Democracy may be only an album by Guns 'n' Roses, but Chinese Hospitality is alive and well.