Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Retrospective

Here’s a look back at pictures from 2009.

January 20. Watching Obama's inauguration at the Charge d'Affaires's house.

January 27. Putting together the school schedule on the library chalkboard

February 3. Akanese and me.

February 9. Daily tea and "scone".

March 9. My year 13s.

March 14. Lizard in my sink (bottom left) while I wash dishes.

March 21. Tafale and Tone in Fausaga.

April 18. Akanese drinking a niu.

April 23. Boys practicing for their Culture Day dance.

April 30. Kid sleeping in my class.

May 6. Cutting up esi at Culture Day.

May 9. Akanese and my dad wading in the ocean.

June 16. Sports day.

June 29. Me and chick in my front yard.

July 3. Congregationalist schools athletics meet.

July 27. Joanna wearing a Swine Flu mask.

August 29. PCV Joey running in the 64-mile Island Perimeter relay.

September 3. Amanda with starfish at Faofao Beach Fales.

September 5. Miss Samoa Australia at the 2009 Miss Samoa Pageant.

September 7. Soles sitting along the seawall watching the Road Switch.

September 14. The Mary apparition on the side of the Christian Congregationalist Church of Samoa's offices.

September 30. Searchers look for bodies on the beach in Lalomanu on the day after a tsunami ravished the southern and eastern parts of the island.

October 3. A family displaced by the tsunami poses for the camera.

October 27. 5 classes of students are crowded into the open air hall at my school when one building on campus is temporarily set off limits after it sustains damages in the September 29 earthquake.

October 29. Tui and Marie in my year 13 class laugh during a Saturday class. Classes were also late into the evening during the Year 13 Camp.

December 6. The snorkeling pool at the Original Maliu Mai in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

December 24. Sunset.

New Year's 2010

I’ve never been to see the ball drop in Time Square, so I admit I don’t have a great frame of reference, and I know I’m gonna get all kinds of flack from you New Yorkers out there, but judging from New Year’s Eve in Sydney, I can’t imagine the holiday being as big anywhere else in the world. Though New Zealand is an hour ahead and Auckland is technically the first “big city” to usher in the new year, but Sydney’s bigger and its proximity to the International Dateline is a source of civic pride.

The entire city gets into it. Port-a-potties appear around the harbour a week in advance, and an expected 1.5 million people show up to scream along with the countdown and watch an awesome display of fireworks. With those big crowds, there stands the claim that “there’s no bad seat in the house,” but certain vantage points are better than others. And so it goes Luisa and I showed up just east of Circular Quay at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning. The grounds for our site opened at 10 a.m., and there we sat for 14 hours.

The first hour was pretty easy, but there was steady rain from 11 to 2. Once again, neither of us packed for rain, so we sat there waiting for the weather to pass.

The balmy summer climate and the big New Year party make Sydney a draw for people from all over the world. In the groups surrounding us, there were Germans, Dutch, Brazilians, Columbians, Brits, French, Americans, and more.

I spent much of the day reading my book, Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland”. This proved to be very confusing for those sitting around me. At one point I caught the Dutch lady next to me eyeing my book suspiciously, and later the Dutch guy behind me struck up a conversation in Dutch. I stared at him blankly.

The whole thing was incredibly organized. There were ample bathrooms and semi-reasonable food vendors. There was no glass allowed, but the bar tent sold bottles of wine and champagne. $5 was built into the price of these bottles, which you could get back if you returned the bottle once it was empty. It was a clever incentive scheme.

There were 2 fireworks shows: one at 9:00 p.m., one at midnight. It’s difficult to describe the coolness of a fireworks show, so I’ll just say that it was worth the wait.

It was a long day, but I feel like it was all part of the experience. It was cool.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The line to get in at 9:30 a.m.

We were right behind the Opera House. This was our view.


Fireworks were everywhere, it seemed. Off the water, off the bridge, even coming off skyscrapers around town.

Boats in the Harbour get into the spirit.

Fireworks off the bridge.

We went to The Rocks area after midnight. Getting there was swimming upstream.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Urban Hike

My dad and I share a knack for dragging people on absurdly long walking trips. My college friend Kim came to visit San Francisco a few years back, and I dragged her up and down Market and all over the Embarcadero. It may be a threshold of pain sort of thing—I can’t stand stubbing my toe, but I can walk all day, much to the detriment of my company. And so it came to pass Luisa and I walked somewhere between 8 and 10 miles today.

I looked it up on GoogleMaps this morning, and it turns out the place we’re staying is only 10 kilometers from downtown Sydney, and I suggested we do it like an urban hike—we’d get to cross the Harbour Bridge. Luisa was all about it. In fact, she suggested we run it. I blanched at that idea, so we took it slow.

It’s kind of fun staying in Sydney’s ‘burbs. Australia’s western colonization took place just slightly after America’s, and the areas north of Sydney have a similar feel to suburbs along the American east coast. Roads are sprinkled with tidbits and factoids about when and why bridges and buildings were built, and the architecture of older buildings echoes the past. The walk also gave us a chance to scope sites for watching tomorrow night’s fireworks extravaganza (Yeah. We’re a day ahead here.).

We got a little lost finding the pedestrian entrance to the Harbour Bridge, but we made it eventually. Preparations are underway on the bridge for tomorrow night’s show. Special platforms have been setup with boxes of fireworks and fuses. New Year’s Eve is in the air.

Once we made it into Sydney, we walked even farther out to Darling Harbour to check out the tourist trap there. We sat down at Lindt’s to iced chocolate and chai tea, which were both delightful. And hours after we left the house, we took the bus home. Exhausted.

In any case, tomorrow is the bigger issue. It’s still unclear where we’re going to watch the fireworks to ring in the new year tomorrow night. But the plan is to leave as early as possible. On the ferry to the zoo, the guide said many people will be camping out tonight to ensure a good view for tomorrow night, and the people at the table next to us at Had to Happen Mexican Restaurant said they’d be heading to stake out their spot around 2:30 a.m. , 21.5 hours before the fireworks start.

So I think we’ll be out of the house early tomorrow morning, but our destination is still unclear. I guess we’ll play it by ear.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

This bridge connecting Cammeray and Northbridge was constructed in 1828.

A storefront in North Sydney.

The yin-yang symbol, which will play a prominent role in New Year's festivities.

The Sydney skyline as seen from the Harbour Bridge.

Iced chocolate, chai, and macarons (not macaroons) from Lindt's. You'll also notice a small wrapped chocolate square on the plate.

I highlight the chocolate square because it was immediately familiar seeing as I have a ton in my freezer back in Samoa. In the last shipment of Ghiradelli chocolate my grandmother sent, I got a bunch of Lindt's chocolates. I didn't even know what Lindt's was. But sure enough, when I turned over the chocolate square at the restaurant this afternoon, it was baked(?) at the Ghiradelli factory in San Leandro, California. What a small world.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's All Happening

In middle school, Carter and I used to check out a book called “Amazing Animals of Australia” from the school library and renew the hell out of it. Carter’s family was all about exploring the stranger corners of the animal kingom—over the years their pets included a boa constrictor, a chinchilla, a Savannah monitor, a corn snake, and countless garter snakes caught at the park. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In any case, the animals in that book were so foreign and fascinating, and it’s only fitting that our first sunny day in Sydney was spent at the zoo.

I looked up Mexican food on Google Maps this morning, which led us to an underground food court between George and Pitt Streets. We had a late start, and it seemed inappropriate to eat so early in the day, but a burrito is difficult to pass up. We took one for the road.

The crowds at Circular Quay were massive this morning. Given yesterday’s relatively light crowds, I was perplexed by this until I considered the following things:
  • It’s summer and schools are out;
  • We’re in that week of purgatory between Christmas and New Year’s when, even if you show up for work, there’s nothing to do; and most importantly
  • Yesterday was rainy and today was hot and sunny.
The cost of the ferry, which at $48 seemed steep, included admission to the zoo. Whatev. We went for it.

As it turned out, zoo admission is $41, so really the ferry was only $7 roundtrip. Also, the line to buy admission at the zoo was insanely long, and we got to skip it. Also, once we were in, the line for hot dogs and sausages was at least a half hour wait. But we brought a burrito! Score!

Once things settled down, the zoo was a great time. I’ve seen a fair amount of zoos in the past couple years—San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Auckland, and New York (Central Park)—and Sydney’s stands with the best of them. One thing that stands out is its sprawling size. It’s huge.

And Sydney Gal was correct: the zoo provides stunning views of the Sydney skyline. Located on the north side of Sydney Harbour, it’s perfectly angled toward the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

And then, of course, there are all the fascinating animals: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, tapirs, and 11 of the 15 most deadly snakes in the world. In the building that houses the nocturnal animals, they turn the lights on at night, and then keep them off during the day, so the animals are all on opposite schedules and thus come out when visitors are around.

So that’s the zoo.

Tomorrow, we’re going to the beach. Maybe.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The zoo is quite proud of the new baby elephant on the far left. He's the first African elephant born in Australia.

Zebras were very popular today.

Zoo employees are pretty good at staging photos like this where the giraffe looks to be stealing the carrot with its tongue. Still funny.

Most of the kangaroos were lazing in the sun, but these guys were hoarding the carrots.

An emu.

Near the end of the day, Luisa and I sat down to look at a map. I looked over and saw a flock of turkeys (far more than are pictured here) inexplicably flocking toward us. All I could say was "Uhhh... Turkeys!" And suddenly they were everywhere. I had to scramble to get this picture, leaving Luisa to fend for herself.

Twice today, an airplane wrote across the sky, "Bondi NYE Shore Thing" to advertise the New Year's Eve celebration at Bondi Beach. The first time the letters stared, I slowly pretended to read, "Su rr en der... Do ro thy." Then I looked around and asked, "Who's Dorothy?" But no one, not even Luisa, thought it was funny. Fine then.