Monday, August 24, 2009

My Outstanding Odyssey to Oz, Part 3: People

I love my blue Kokanee beer hat. It’s simple, but some people will recognize it, and it becomes a great Ice Breaker. So when I got off the bus the first time for tea and biscuits, and the guy sitting behind me confirmed I was a Canadian that liked my beer, I wasn’t too surprised. We hit it off and throughout the trip talked quite a bit. His name is Sung and I quoted him in Part 1. He’s from California, but has a Korean background. Not only did we have really good talks about all kinds of things, but we decided to meet up that night for pizza and beer as well.

We talked for hours and it was really cool, he has been a lot of places and had lots of interesting insight. During our conversation I stopped myself and apologized, as it seems like I am able to talk more about Japan than I am about Canada. Whenever you meet people and talk with them, the vast majority of them don’t know much beyond Vancouver and/or Toronto. If they know more, then they know about Banff, Niagara Falls, and Montreal. Anything else is extremely rare. I can’t count the number of times I awkwardly, and sometimes unsuccessfully, tried to explain where to find Saskatchewan on a map.

It surprisingly hard to talk with, and relate to, many tourists’ Canadian stories given my background and experience. You talk about what you know right? Beer, hockey, etc. I really need to see more of Canada already :( At least I’ve got many cool Japanese stories and perspectives to give now.

After the tasty pizza and beers, we were near my hostel at Kings Cross, the red light district. We asked a bouncer where a good strip club was (when in Rome right?) and he confirmed with us if we wanted *only* a strip club. It was then I started noticing the tell tale signs of shady dealings, like the upper floors of the clubs had their windows boarded up and painted over. Many of the places were actually brothels.

Getting back to the “you can do it, but you can’t advertise it,” it seemed to make a lot of sense. We said we just wanted a place without the dirty dealings, and he gave us a recommendation down the way. We went in and enjoyed ourselves somewhat. I can honestly say I had more fun in Regina with my brother. We made the most of it though, telling stories still (like ping pong in Thailand) and experiencing what Sydney had to offer.

We grew bored of the dancing though, and we were incredibly annoyed of the waitresses asking literally every 2-3 minutes if we wanted more drinks. I tried talking with some of them, but many beyond being able to order drinks had such thick accents I just couldn’t understand them, even with my internal accent translator.

That was a common theme I was discovering around the country: the huge influx of foreign workers. I thought it was strange at first when searching for a hostel, the plethora of options that were available. Some of the comments would tip off too about how the majority of the people staying there were just looking for work, and as such, there was a depressing atmosphere about the place. That was certainly true of the people I met at the hostels, the vast majority were foreign workers; including the people running the hostel! I guess how the visa works in Australia is that you can work for 6 months at a time, but then you have to change jobs and cities if you want to stay.

So you are left with the strange situation of people working, moving to another city every 5 months or so, then coming back. They had their own weird rotations and underground society, but it works well for them. My friend Neal said some of his own family members had a bit of a tough time when they moved in during the 80’s, but luckily it seems to have worked out since then. Aussies are cool people.

Saturday’s adventure was a bus trip to Port Stevens at Nelson Bay, maybe 3 hours north. This trip was a bit more expensive than the rest, but the biggest reason I signed on was for the whale watching. The trip up was nice; now that I know what these crazy eucalypti trees look like I saw them everywhere. We crossed over the famous bridge and saw all kinds of neat things like highways carved out of the Sandstone Mountains and so on. Much of what was excavated was used for the beautiful architecture.

To break up the 3-hour trip, we stopped at a Reptilian Museum along the way. Everyone went straight to the koalas to get pictures with them, so I went and checked out other stuff instead; I’m not one for waiting in line. There were cool things here, like Tasmanian Devils and Emus.

Inside, a worker was extracting venom from some kind of ‘spinner’ spiders; apparently the most lethal in the world. I guess how they made vaccines to save people who are bit and poisoned from these monsters, is they give it to rabbits in small doses in a lab. The rabbit builds up immunity over time, and the antibodies are harvested to save lives. Apparently anti-venom is really new! I was surprised; I thought it had been around for quite a while. Good on them for saving lives.

I saw this and that, including bright blue frogs and stuff, but ultimately I didn’t care too much. Maybe it’s not a bad thing I missed out on the huge zoos and stuff. Maybe I just try and do too much and burn out, or maybe I shouldn’t book two day long tours like this in a row anymore as this feeling carried over for most of the day.

It’s unfortunate these trips will drop you off at tourist traps where everything is over priced, but I guess I’m fortunate I’m a bit cheap, and will walk further to find stuff. Fish and Chips were plentiful and reasonable here. Also, you know it’s good when they wrap it up in paper. Nostalgia makes it taste better ;) After lunch I got on a huge boat, and we proceeded to go cruise around for 90 minutes looking for whales.

The first part was quite disappointing, and a boat zipping past with para-sailing people made me think of things I’d rather be doing. Namely para-sailing. I guess the place was still beautiful enough, and at the end we did get to see 2 dolphins splashing around near where we started. Another boat was nearby completely filled with Japanese tourists, as every time a dolphin went up for air, the exact chorus of “eeeh! Sugoi!” (wow, amazing!) was chimed. They really need more words to describe stuff in Japanese. I’m lucky I have a Thesaurus built into this Mac so you don’t have to hear me say *only* “amazing” over and over (astonishing, remarkable, phenomenal, etc)

I pondered Japanese tourists and people. They’re great, but extremely hard to meet or get to know. When they travel, the vast majority of them clump together and never venture out from their tour group; from which their entire trip and experience is taught to them and never really learnt. For example you can be given answers, but when you find them for yourself it’s more meaningful and varied.

But then sure you do meet some that stray from the group and take an English tour. These people are more adventurous, but I’ve learnt something unpleasant about them at the same time. I’ve met Australians, Chinese people, Vietnamese, European (various) and with all of them if you send an email the majority will respond. With Japanese people you will never hear from them again. At least in my experience and travels; I think I’m batting a 0% average so far, and I’ve met more than a handful already. I guess I’ve had more than similar experiences trying to date girls here, but I digress.

Having said that, I wasn’t surprised when the nice Japanese girls I met never did write me back, but the nice Chinese girl did. She’s studying in Australia and we got along well watching the dolphins and then later went 4x4ing. I was expecting something epic and cool in this mean machine, but it was more of a method to drive you straight from the bus to a sand hill. This beach was epic in size and beauty, and there were many kilometers of sand.

My new Chinese friend, Jackie and I rode down the sand hills a couple times. It was fun, but quite messy. I ended up getting sand in my camera, so I was shocked and scared when it started grinding when I turned it on and frequently gave me “lens error” messages. I dropped it on my trip too, almost popped it open. I hope it’s mostly ok now, but its days are numbered. I’ve had it for a year and took over 8000 photos already haha

Well this is when my awesome trip took a turn for the unfortunate. On the trip back many of us took naps as it was getting dark now, but when I woke up all the muscles in my face cried out in pain. I’ve never felt that before, nor have I realized how many individual muscles a face has, but it was a bad omen. I soon discovered most of my muscles were stiff and sore and my head was starting to throb.

That night there was a Aussie Rules Rugby game going on at Olympic Stadium. I was starting to feel quite bad and the game was one hour over by the time I got back, but I forced a “no regrets” mindset and struggled through it. At the main train station, there were about 24 different tracks, and all of them poorly marked beyond what number they were. “Where does this one go?” and “What time?” were mysteries.

One of the many station dudes was kept hopping, answering easy questions of “how do I get to …” with long and complicated answers. When I asked how to get to Olympic park, I had to go 100 meters or so just to find my tracks. Once there, I asked another dude if this train went to Olympic stadium: “get off at (blah blah) and take a bus at (blah blah) to the stadium”

Are you serious? You have an OLYMPIC stadium and no train access despite a couple dozen tracks in service? Not only that, but the next train would come in ½ hour.

I did the math: 3hr football games in Canada = X(time seeing game) – 1hr late – ½ hr train wait – ½ hr messing with a bus nonsense – ½ hr tickets, seating, walking, etc. + my head felt like a banana peel popping open. I cut my losses, earned the regret, and went back to my hostel. I spent the next 12 hours in bed covered in a cold sweat, plagued with funky dreams that the flu give you.

Actually this dream was kinda cool I thought: I was a director/screen writer/actor that was charged with making a comedy using my older brother John’s childhood for material. It was quite epic, as I said I was in a sweaty coma for 12 hours and not sure how much of that was spent dreaming. I went with a teenaged era theme to fit in as many crazy John stories as I could from when he was younger and older while having a coherent story.

There were epic paintball battles against my cousin Jerry in slow motion while matrix-style balls ripped holes into time and space, or crazy plays he made while playing football. Of course as his younger brother I had a role, but it was mostly him beating me up and being evil/hilarious; not to mention my sisters. Like how he tried to sell me dead batteries for $2, or got me into trouble nightly in our shared room until the parents broke us up and made me walk down the terrifying dark hallway to the parents’ room. Or burn everything he barbequed so that I had to cook almost every night while he played video games instead of me. Well maybe that part of the movie wasn’t as funny, but there are always ways to add a small twist to writing to make it more charming.

Anyways, my Sunday was suppose to be pretty cool with a trip to a huge zoo and taking Surfing lessons, but after a late start and going to the chemist (Aussie for “pharmacy”) for some cold medicine, I mostly just saw 2 movies in the theater. I laughed so hard at “Bruno” I was crying at one point. I was sick, but still able to move and do a little which was fortunate.

Although I checked out around 10, the dude saw I was suffering and offered to let me rest in bed until I was feeling better. I thought that was really nice of him, but I wanted to get something done while I was on holidays. That night I took a 12-hour overnight bus to Melbourne. I was fortunate the seat beside me was empty and that I did get some sleep.

"Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working." -Pablo Picasso


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