19 November 2009

A reason, a season or a lifetime

On the eve of Mom's trans-Pacific flight home, we returned to Circular Quay. We willfully decided to forgo a decadent $14 slice of cheesecake. Instead, Mom & I headed to the IMAX theatre. Since Harry Potter 6 was not yet released we bought tickets for "Under The Sea 3-D". Coincedentally the movie was filmed partly in The Great Barrier Reef! I was surprised to learn:

* Sea Snakes are very deadly.

* Turtles can actually eat Jellyfish, but close their eyes during this process.

* Great White Sharks sometimes hunt Stingrays out of desperation.

* there were only 2 types of Sea Dragons (Leafy & Weedy, which I saw at The Sydney Aquarium the day before!)
The time arrived to bid farewell to my partner in crime & perfect travel companion on my Australian adventure. Although 25 years old, my eyes still welled up at just the thought of goodbye. I sat alone in the domestic terminal and envisioned my Mom in the international mega-terminal. The quietness and loneliness felt palpable. I had spent two & a half months alone in Mackay. What unsettled me most during that time, was the realization that I was beginning to forget what my family and friends' voices sounded like. Now mid-July I would have to endure that nagging paranoia again.

A bit sad, my seat on the flight to Townsville was next to a guy in his mid-twenties from the States -- Connecticut to be exact. It turned out he was a teacher, like me, so we chatted about education, our personal lives, and adventures down under. He asked the stewardess "What candies [after a funny look from her].... er, confectionaries... do you have?" "Silly boy," I thought, "they're called 'lollies' here." The young guy affirmed that I was no longer a visitor or tourist in Oz. I was jolted by the fact that was truly living in a foreign country. In my uncomfortable airplane seat, in my miserable mood, I secretly relished in and replayed that moment.I arrived in balmy Townsville around midnight.  The guy from the flight never asked for my mobile a.k.a. cellular number or whether I'd like to discover the area with him. At first I found it irksome that we shared our quirky stories, pasts & itineraries, then immediately reverted back to total strangers when the wheels touched down. However, upon closer examination, I convinced myself not to over-analyze or take the gesture personally (which is atypical for me). We were world travelers whose lines happened to intersect in New South Wales and probably would never cross again.

On the flip side, there was my dear Mom whose path was so meshed with mine it was hard to tell where her line ended & mine began.


(The entirety of my titled excerpt:
"People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON... It is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually. They may seem like a Godsend, and they are! They are there for the reason you need them to be.Then, without any wrong doing on your part, or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered.

And now it is time to move on.When people come into your life for a SEASON...Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They bring you an experience of peace, or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
")

08 November 2009

Diversity

Who knew the world's largest aquarium was in my backyard?

FIRST STOP: SYDNEY AQUARIUM
Mom & I had a tough time getting a clear view of platypi at Carnarvon National Park so I was pleased the aquarium had an exhibit for us to see one up close. The busy platypus never held still long enough for me to snap a decent photograph, but Mom thought it was so interesting we stayed for 30 minutes just observing as the other visitors moved on.
There was a 20 foot oceanarium that depicted The Great Barrier Reef & had suspended walkways so people could view the sea floor below and endless waves above. There was always a lot of action going on at once -- I don't think I saw half of the fish that resided in the massive tank. Nonetheless, Mom & I were captivated. We watched the marine animals and plants carry on uninterrupted in their simulated natural environment.

I really respect the Sydney Aquarium's approach to housing the larger animals. Those creatures were kept in 3 ocean-like venues submerged in Darling Harbour. The tanks were separated from the main building so Mom & I crossed the wooden-plank walkway into, seemingly, another world. All 3 exhibits contained above-water and underwater viewing areas to immerse the visitor in the experience.

The first tank housed the endangered Dugongs -- the majority of which live in the northern waters of Oz. Only five are on public display throughout the world & The Sydney Aquarium housed two! I caught one napping with a smile on its face. I did not know if it was truly an emotion or the anatomical makeup of its mouth, yet both Dugongs looked complacent.
The other two worlds had a much different vibe. The tanks were filled with aggressive sharks, enormous turtle and lengthy stingrays. Every time a stingray glided above me I was held in awe by its wingspan that blocked all overhead light and oddly positioned mouth. I envied the way they moved so smoothly.

In addition, I was impressed that the sharks coexisted so harmoniously with the other animals in the tank. Still, their eyeballs creeped me out and the irrational part of my brain wondered how thick the glass was between us?Back inside, the aquarium was packed with various windows of dark water holding foreign marine creatures. Finally, the Lungish. Yes, a "fish" that actually breathed air I had to see with my own eyes! Furthermore, only Australian Lungfish have one lung (having just one lung is a rarity in the animal kingdom).The aquarium continued to maintain my curiosity. I was amazed by the flourescent coral. In Puerto Rico I had heard about the famed bioluminescent bays. Here, I had no clue something living a few fathors below the water's surface could produce such brilliant light! Also, I was captivated by the Moon Jellyfish but for exactly the opposite reason. Colorless, respiratory-less and formless, they moved not in the same manner as stingrays, but with the same fluidness. The tinted light projected from above that passed through their transparent bodies was beautiful against the void background.I hoped to see live Box Jellyfish & Irukandji since their infamous reputation preceded them. However, I only viewed a specimen of the Box Jellyfish & photos of its deadly defenses. Equally toxic & in front of me was a Blue-Ringed Octopus (its rings actually glow blue when distressed) and a Stonefish who won the award for both Best Camoflauge and Most Photogenic. That left only the poisonous Irukandji and Scorpionfish for me seek later in my time abroad.
A big hit with the kids were the Fairy Penguins as they were playful and energetic. I tried for a significant amount of time to photograph a Clownfish hiding in the anemones. Like clockwork, every time the fish swam by, a child would exclaim "There's Nemo!" (ah, the ubiquitousness of Disney).
Since aquarium was so alluring, the sun was setting when Mom & I emerged (remember, it was the middle of winter so the sun set at 5:30 PM).

SECOND STOP: WORLD SQUARE SHOPPING CENTRE
Always in search of our next delectable meal, Mom & I were drawn to a style we had not yet sampled. The advertisement worked its magic: "The world's tastiest dumplings!" For only $25 AUD we feasted on authentic pork dumplings, pork buns, vegetable wonton soup and fried rice. The flavors brought me back to San Francisco, where I used to eat genuine asian cuisine regularly.

THIRD STOP: SYDNEY OPERA HOUSETrying to burn off the calories from dinner, Mom & I walked back to Circular Quay (pronounced "kee") to the iconic Sydney Opera House for a 7:00 PM performance. We had center seats for the 20th Australian International Music Festival. The festival began with a Chinese tribute with native musical instruments. The feature band hailed from Anchorage, Alaska, U.S.A. There was an eclectic mixture of genres, solo artists, bands and choirs. My favorite sound was the resonating French Horn and the deep Cello.
Mom & I lollygagged back to the hotel in the late night as the city shifted from its relaxed, tourist-filled weekend routine to Sunday evening, ready-for-work-in-the-morning vibe. We were both utterly exhausted, but in a good way. I was thankful for a busy day because it kept my mind off Monday/tomorrow: the day Mom had to return to the United States.

06 November 2009

The good life

The last two weeks were spent sleeping on hard ground, secluded in nature with the only evening light coming from the moon or a travel-sized flashlight. Since it was another overcast, rainy day (New South Wales' winters are nothing like the sunny, comfortable winters of Queensland) Mom & I relished in the luxury of the Marriott and watched the Davis Cup in our pajamas while we ate breakfast in bed.
FIRST STOP: HYDE PARK
In the daylight the park seemed even more prestigious. The Possums & homeless man from the night before had vanished, but we discovered more & different features as we strolled away from the hotel. The paths were lined with massive trees (I wish I knew their names). Branches, vines and roots, all stretched vertically by gravity & time, created an artistic look and made the tree seem like it was straight from the pages of Sleepy Hollow. Close to our hotel was a gold-plated building that resembled a large mausoleum with a lengthy reflecting pool -- reminiscent of the Washington Monument's -- commemorating the ANZAC a.k.a. Australian & New Zealand Armed Corps. Further along people were playing chess with life-size pieces on a board painted on the park's concrete. Newspaper stands were open. Towards the end of the park was my favorite landmark: the picturesque Archibald Fountain with the monstrous gothic church of St. Mary across the street. Unfortunately the only plaque described Mr. Archibald, not the fountain, but it was clearly a tribute Greek mythology with Apollo/his lyre atop and Diana/her bow/a deer, Theseus slaying the Minotaur, and possibly Aristaeus in the main basin.


SECOND STOP: ART GALLERY OF N.S.W. & ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
In the art gallery we observed some Reubens, Rodins, Cezannes, as well as local artists. The Gardens -- although not in full bloom -- were quite spacious and well-groomed. The Queen Mum would be proud.

THIRD STOP: THE ROCKS' STREET MARKET
A hopping, quirky market on old cobblestone roads gave the experience unique appeal. There were so many intriguing or entertaining stands I wanted to buy a souvenir for everyone! Mom & I agreed on our two favorite shops. The first was devoted to hand-made bowls and plates. The friendly, retired couple shaped and smoothed regional Burl wood. So you could see the grain and rings within the wood but, in stark opposition, the edges were untouched and spiky. The second stand was owned by another crafty gentleman who hand-made all the products. At first glance I thought he was selling ordinary logs -- rough bark on the outside and various colors/types of tree limbs. Upon closer inspection the wood had been chiseled away on the inside. When flipped upside down, the logs became pop-out, puzzles that looked like a Puzz3-D skyscraper. The Desert Myall block was my favorite because it had constrasting very dark and light wood... I was seriously one second away from throwing down the money!

FOURTH STOP: DARLINGHURST
That evening Mom & I walked to this more residential but quaint area of Sydney. We were perplexed that the praised restaurant we planned to dine at was closed on a Friday night. Amidst all the busy restaurants and pubs we found a quiet Italian cafe that left us stuffed... but why stop with the luxury? Before we called it a night, Mom & I splurged at a Darlinghurst patisserie.

01 November 2009

Yum-cha

I was thrilled 1) that my head didn't explode on the plane from the added pressure and 2) to be in Sydney!

My generous Mom let me have the window seat since she got a great birdseye view flying into the country internationally. Upon touchdown I spotted a vibrant rainbow above the control tower -- that has to be a good sign, right?
I was long overdue for authentic sushi, so we got word from a local to try Sushi-E, although he claimed it was a bit of a hike. Compared to our last hiking excursions, the flat terrain & distance to the restaurant was -- literally & figuratively -- a walk in the park. Sushi-E was a swanky lounge scene complete with dim lighting and couches/ottomans in the bar area. My sushi mantra: try rolls customized to the establishment. I opted for the "chicken kara age roll" which boasted teriyaki chicken, sweet omelette, darling mills cress & pepper cream, rolled inside out with jasmin rice (don't worry, the chicken was not raw). It was a party in my mouth! Mom & I also received complimentary dessert: vanilla pancetta & raspberry coule. It was the icing on the cake!

It was a cold night (clarification: "cold" since my time in Australia, not "cold" like Ohio winters) and we smelled the moisture in the air and on the sidewalks. Apparently it had been raining for the past week. As Mom & I ambled back to the Marriott we passed a building in the main shopping area of downtown Sydney with a lot of small cascades, backlit with changing colors. I liked the sound & sight of water amidst all the concrete. We also passed a few subway entrances -- something neither of us had seen it quite some time!
Mom & I continued to walk through the gorgeous & well-lit Hyde Park. Suddenly we noted animals, the size of large cats, scurrying across the lawns. I learned they were Possums (not to be confused with Opposums) everywhere. One was even climbing on a homeless guy asleep on the park bench!
Still fighting off a head cold, with my stomach finally full, in a warm, dry hotel room, in a new scene and grateful to have a few more days with my Mom, I slept peacefully.