Come Wind and High Water…
Today marks my first full week in sydney and the first day I’ve seen the sun since I got here. Actually, it peeked out briefly while I was sorting out my classes on campus, and I was so thrilled that I changed into a short-sleeved shirt and retrieved sunglasses from my room, but by the time I returned to the University it was pouring freezing rain and has not stopped–until today.
There are not many ways I can describe the moving-in experience textually, but if I had planted a camera on the road leading to my apartment village for those 48 hours, right by the steep hill which marks the beginning of all routes, there are many things it would capture. First, there would be many groups of three or four walking excitedly, taking pictures of their new surroundings, chattering noisily the whole way to our main shopping center, called Broadway. They would not even notice how difficult the hill is through their energy from finally moving in. Fast-forward the video a few hours, and you would see the same groups with much less energy, pushing giant red shopping carts full of food and linens and every other heavy necessity in the rain, and you would probably have a bird’s eye view of these students losing control of their carts on that hill, filled with all their new goods. And later that night, you would see an oversized group of 25 of us, Americans on our first night out together and wanting everybody to know it, scrambling back and forth on the street trying to find our way to King Street. The next day, you would probably see attendants summoned from the supermarket angrily dragging the carts back to Broadway where they belong.
My friends and I, on the other hand, took a cab home from Broadway and bypassed part of the chaos. However, I realized later that night as I lay in my bed that I had only bought a duvet cover and not the actual warm comforter that goes inside this thin sheet, so I slept little in my apartment because I was so cold and my room has no heating unit. The next morning, to my dismay, as soon as I turned my lights on they all exploded from a short-circuit. Twice I waited for a half hour in my room for the maintenance man so that he could tell me twice that he could not fix my lights, so my second day and night were spent in darkness. Most days this week I woke up around 7 am because the wind was blowing so hard outside my window!
At orientation this second day we attended orientation in the Great Hall, the oldest building on campus and certainly the most dignified, and then we listened to the University of Sydney bells: the largest instrument in the world. Small gargoyle-like fixtures and statues line the walls, and stain-glass windows cast a wonderfully divine aura all around the building’s worn brick and sloping arched ceiling. We were introduced to an Aboriginal dance group who were actually siblings of the same family and they did dances that reflected the profound thoughts of this ancient civilization. One movement of this classic piece was a charade of a kangaroo in a field who spots a dingo. I’ll have to spoil the ending by saying absolutely nothing happens after the kangaroo encounters the dingo except that he shimmied his shoulders a bit and his sister blew loudly on her horn several times. It made me wonder if my professor for my class about Aboriginals will also smear white paint on his face!
That night my friends and I walked around King street and discovered that Dominos pizza is way too close to my apartment. To my disappointment pasta bread bowls are over $10 (and that’s Australian dollars), so I will have to remain a cautious patriot by staying loyal to the American Dominos.
On Tuesday, I signed up for a tour of Manly Beach while it was still just overcast and not yet raining. Of course, as we boarded the bus a torrential downpour began and lasted our entire stay at the beach. Despite the weather it was shocking that people were scattered throughout the ocean: canoeing, boogie-boarding, and just swimming. I can’t say that the actual beachtown of Manly is as impressive as the ferry ride to this destination: we got an excellent view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge again, and that night we were able to see these same sights glowing in the darkness.
This same night I discovered that although Sydney is an english-speaking country, there is certainly a barrier in relaying information. When we asked a receptionist which bus we should take back to our apartments and where the stop would be, he gave us clear directions that took us about half a mile from this bus station, which was actually half a block from our starting point. When we boarded the bus recommended by the receptionist, the driver barked that this was the wrong vehicle and directed us to yet another wrong bus whose driver had never heard of our suburb. By the end of the night my clothes were so thoroughly soaked that I had to hang them up to dry.
On Friday I saw Harry Potter in theaters for almost double the cost of a movie ticket in the United states, but the Broadway theater reserved seats and offered a drink bar inside the cinema. And Saturday the sun finally peaked out and unveiled a deceptively warm and perfect day for exploring the city. My friends and I took this opportunity to venture to Hyde Park, which features an exotic and gorgeous landscape in the middle of the business district of Sydney, and luckily we brought umbrellas for the surprise rainstorm that began as soon as we exited the bus. Next to it is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, where the English convicts were housed and which later was a housing site for “unaccompanied female migrants,” particularly the Irish who came during a famine. The gift shop displayed a pet rat in a glass case which was meant to pay homage to the rats that preserved everyday items of the inhabitants by making underground nests out of them. We also looked around St. Mary’s church, which resides on the site of the first Catholic church built in Australia. Finally, we attended the “Winter Festival” where you could pay to ice-skate and not pay to get samples of chai lattes and Austrian tea made from red wine. From here on out the weather should be perfect and it will only get warmer for more exploration!