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Rock on, Sydney!

I had just gotten off the bus and it was around 7:00PM, and as usual, night had already fallen. I had to meet Martin in a few minutes for drinks with him and his friends but was finding myself getting constantly distracted by the ever so interesting goings-on of the city, which seem to increase ten-fold as the sun goes down.

The lady to my left (who was on the bus with me not two minutes prior) bent over and picked up a bag which was laying up against the bus stop wall (at least, I’m pretty sure she did). She folded back the paper and chomped down on the huge sandwich within. I zoomed past a guy playing the Brady Bunch theme song with a spoon on a series of beer bottles hanging from a stand with string. Pure genius. I gave him 50 cents. The cacophony of languages spoken by seemingly every imaginable race blended together to create a vibrant and gyrating hum which was complimented by the neon signs on every street corner and hanging from the overhang of every store.

A man preached about the lord in the middle of the sidewalk and a woman handed me a flier for a gym membership.

And it was cold. Sydney gets bloody cold in the evening and we aren’t even into full on winter yet. With red cheeks, I looked for the pub. The meeting point was an old Irish pub just past the monorail station (a legacy from the Olympic games held in Sydney). Bingo.

And thus, the night was spent catching up with Martin, meeting his girlfriend and friends and listening to some girl tell me about her dreams (something along the lines of her being a man and going on a murder spree…”I’m sorry, why are you talking to me again?”). It was great. To avoid missing the last bus, I had to leave around midnight and eventually found my way home. Sydney’s public transport system is awesome and I have been taking full advantage of the unlimited travel pass card for $32 AUD which entitles you to (unlimited, duh) travel on all buses, trains, and ferries in the “Red Zone”. I’m not sure to where, exactly, the red zone extends, but seeing as I haven’t stepped out of it yet, it seems fairly extensive.

And so…yeah. I’ve been wandering around the city for the past week, taking in all it has to offer while spending very, very little. I’m staying with friends so I’m saving about $25 bucks a night and with that, people watching is usually free (unless it’s in a strip joint, mind you).

A highlight of my stay was going out with Lucy, Lou, Angie and Skelly (my friend Michelle’s friends from her year studying here and with whom I had gone out plenty when I came to visit Michelle a few years ago). We all ended up getting pretty well spirited and I woke up the next day in Lucy’s living room to her room mate towering over me asking if it was my alarm that had been going off for 20 minutes (my earplugs, combined with a rough night prior, seem to make me not hear my alarm). She had to go all the way downstairs to turn it off. Without much ado, I stumbled down to the Olympic Torch Passing, starting at the Sydney Opera House and spent the rest of the day wandering around the harbor.

I also got to see a huge boulder lowered onto a car in front of the Opera House in the name of “art”. Cool, huh? I took plenty of pictures.

The food festival was cool too. My new “roommates” and I checked it out and spent the night at Manly Beach drinking and checking out live bands (one of which was probably one of the most embarrassingly horrible bands ever to play on stage).

And yesterday, I got back from a three day stint in the “Blue Mountains”, which is a national park about 100k from Sydney. Beautiful canyons and cliffs nestled in dry rainforests make it a pretty enjoyable place to spend a few days hiking around and relaxing – not to mention an excellent opportunity to break in my new boots. Oh yeah, did I tell you about that? I finally got my new ones shipped to me. I had destroyed my first pair after hiking all around New Zealand for a month and a half and after taking them back, they shipped me a brand-spanking-new pair to Lucy’s place in Sydney. So now no one believes that I hiked in New Zealand, given the impeccable condition of my boots, (“430 kilometers…riiiiighhhht”).

I met some pretty interesting people while there including a girl I had met in New Zealand about 2 months ago. While I walked down the street, I passed a girl who quickly stopped and yelled, “HEY! You were on the Rees-Dart track in NZ!”. Yup, I was. We subsequently had an awkward 5 minute chat about nothing, seeing as we didn’t really know each other and had nothing to talk about. It’s a small world, eh? I also met a girl on the track with whom I ended up walking back to the bus station to catch the last bus of the evening. She explained to me how she had quit smoking a two weeks prior and was surprised at how easy it was after the first week.

“I think that after the first week, your body gets over the physical dependence and it’s just getting used to the psychological aspect of quitting”, she declared.

“I don’t know”, I replied. “My mom quit over 10 years ago and says she still gets an occasional craving if she gets a whiff of smoke in a restaurant. It’s a constant battle you have to deal with your whole life, but it’s a decision you make, you know?”.

So let’s fast forward about an hour to the pub. She had invited me out for a drink, and I’m not one to turn down the chance for a free beer.

In the middle some random chatting, she pulls out a cigarette and lights it up.

“Oh, this is the one I’m allowed a day. I cut it a little shorter, so it’s my mini-cigarette”, she explained.

I was impressed. Not many people alive (or dead) can pull off the process of quitting smoking while continuing to smoke cigarettes. What this girl was pulling off was a revolutionary confounding of modern day western logic. I smiled to myself when she pulled out her second “daily cigarette” not 20 minutes later. This girl should write a book!

So now I’m back in Sydney. I greeted my return to my friends house with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, all the rage since one opened up in downtown Sydney. The line was only 20 minutes and I figured it was as good a way as any to make the housemates forget that I was living on their couch.

It worked. And with only three days to go before my departure to China, I’m more excited than ever. I’m really going to miss Australia and really like it a lot. I can remember some guy telling me back home that he thought it was basically a “boring US”, which was totally wrong in my opinion. Indeed, as American and advanced western culture in general spreads, big cities and western countries are starting to converge in mannerisms and appearance, but when you look past that, the differences really do open up and become clearer. Not to mention the fact that you have some of the most incredible and diverse scenery in the world at your disposal when you devote enough time to see the country thoroughly (which I didn’t). I hope I get to come back here and do another trip around the east or west coast sometime in my life. It would only be fair to see it right, and with perhaps a bit more cash to splash.

Meeeemorriiiiieeees…

I sat there trying to figure out what to do with the car in Simon and Kat’s apartment – with a pretty bad hangover.

“Maybe we could just drive it off a cliff somewhere, tape it, then sell the tape. Then you could make some money on it!”, suggested Simon.

“Yeah…that would be cool. But, you know, it’s kind of like 1000 times worse than throwing a wrapper on the ground. That’s like hardcore pollution. Unless we cleaned it up after. And I’m not up for that today”, I replied.

“Dude, just make a flier and say $250 bucks for it. You’ll sell it today.”

See, the problem was that 1) The transmission had some problem, 2) It leaked a lot of oil, 3) I couldn’t, in good conscience, sell the car without telling someone about that stuff, and 4) If I were to sell the car for anything near what I bought for it (assuming I would be dishonest), it would take at least several weeks – which I didn’t have time for.

“If you help me with it, I’ll do it”, I said.

And we were off. Simon and Kat had just sold their car and knew all the good places to put the fliers. So I went to an internet cafe, made a flier, put a picture (the only one I had) of me with my shirt off and my hands in the air at the border of Queensland here in OZ.

As we printed it up at the Internet place, a guy looked and called his buddy. His buddy called me and tried to bargain me down to $150. Funny stuff. What a cheap bastard. So I told him I wouldn’t budge and he said he would call me back. Simon and I proceeded to put another few fliers up and at one place, there were two guys looking at the board.

“Hey, you guys wanna buy a car?”, I asked.

Twenty minutes later, my car was sold. I explained the problems and we took it for a drive and they decided that they would try their luck. They just had to get it down the coast and I think they might be able to make it. And my problems are done. I bought a ticket to Sydney for $200 bucks and was there the next morning.

First on the agenda was getting to the Chinese embassy to find out if I would have problems getting into China on a one way ticket. I went to the address I had after getting off the plane (with my huge backpack and all) via the train, only to find that it had moved. Eventually, I maneuvered my way on trains and buses to arrive at the new address, only to find that I was one minute too late (they work really rough hours at the embassy, 10AM – Noon. I noticed a Chinese travel agent next door so I stopped in and chatted with the guy. He said that I shouldn’t have a problem with a one way ticket. He sells them to Australians all the time. So I went to STA Travel and bought my ticket for the 12th of this month for about $690. After hanging around in the city for a few hours, I met up with Matt (the guy I met in NZ) and we headed back to his place and he showed me the couch I would be able to live on for the next few days. Cooooooool! We celebrated his roommate’s birthday that night and stayed up pretty late talking and catching up. It was great.

This morning I spent a few hours cleaning up the house in payment for accommodation and the food from last night and headed to the city to try the embassy one more time. I got in, sat around listening to all the Chinese and when it was my turn was assured I wouldn’t have a problem with a one way ticket. I then called Thai Airways and was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with a one way ticket. Remember this guys. Especially if I have problems with a one way ticket when I arrive.

So right now I’m just hanging out in Sydney. I bought an unlimited public transport pass and am just popping around the city checking everything out. In a few minutes, I’m gonna meet up with Lucy, a girl I met out here when I was here a few years ago and that should be pretty cool. At this very moment, I’m on a street I walked on quite a bit when I was here last time and it feels really strange to see it. My life has changed in every conceivable way since then and now that I am back here, it’s interesting to see how differently I feel walking the streets now that I am an experienced traveler.

When I landed at the airport yesterday, I walked up to customs completely relaxed and with a half grin on my face (as usual) and the lady at the desk looked at me and smiled and said, “Wow, you shouldn’t look so stressed!”. I cruised through the airport, found the train I needed got on, walked around and didn’t feel the slightest hint of intimidation. Compared with my first visit to Sydney several years ago, it felt pretty different. I was so lost my first time, it wasn’t even funny.

I didn’t know where to go, what the coins looked like, how much stuff should cost, who to trust, who to ask, what to do with customs, etc… It was my first time traveling and it was a very new experience. And now, after exactly nine months of travel, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting thrown into a completely foreign place and calling it home without too much trouble.

At least, in western countries it’s no longer a problem. In 11 days I leave for China. I can’t read or speak Chinese and I have no idea how things get done, where to go, or the customs of the people there. If I don’t see food in the window, I wont even be able to find a place to eat. It’s going to be interesting.

It’s going to be fun.