Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Returning to Long Beach and Finding Art in Bicycle Posts

Long Beach Skyline
I'm in Long Beach, California, but did I really leave Australia? Even though I see people driving on the right side of the road and hear American accents, it doesn't feel much different! Palm trees line the streets, glistening new buildings dot the skyline, and beachwear is the order of the day.

Actually, Long Beach is my home town, but this Long Beach is different from the one I remember from the late 1970's. Over the last 30 years, the city has transformed itself. The decaying downtown of my childhood has given way to fancy restaurants and trendy cafes. Entire sections of the city have been torn down and completely replaced by sleek modern architecture and landscaping (which I suspect is the reason it reminds me of Australia). Long Beach is no longer the sleepy and depressed place that I left.

Riding around town, I'm struck by its cultural vibrancy. Buildings once dedicated to manufacturing are now art galleries, music venues, and live performance stages. Like Paris and Berlin, Long Beach has even elevated the simple bicycle post into art. 

Coffee Cup in Front of a Cafe

Ice Cream Cone
for an Ice Cream Shop

Palm Tree Bicycle Posts
add Style to Hair Salon

Dine at a Diner
with Bicycle Post
A Guitar
for a Music Store
A Surf Board: SoCal
Beach Culture

A Bicyclist
Highlights the Many Bike Lanes
in Long Beach
in Front of a Fitness Studio

A Dog Treat
Welcomes Dogs to a Wash Salon

Vegetables in
Front of a Vegan Restaurant
Dragonfly Compliments
an Asian Restaurant

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Generous Aussie Spirit

Sunrise Over the Pacific
The bronzed Aussie, the shimmering ocean, and the inviting beaches are images that I'll carry away from Australia. Yet, the thing that makes me envious of Australia is its apparent lack of economic disparity among its citizens. While the gap between rich and poor Americans keeps growing, Australia is still relatively egalitarian. Australians enjoy a high standard of living, relatively low taxes, and a social safety net that Americans can only dream of.

Australians may complain that their country is becoming less equal; however, the statistics don't bear it out. And although Australia's huge investment in infrastructure, social programs, and health care may be cause for alarm among some economists, there is no doubt Australia's commitment has paid off in terms of an improved standard of living for all of its citizens. It's this commitment toward shared responsibility that stands in sharp contrast to America's lassez-faire approach, which leaves thousands homeless, without work and health care.  

In addition, Australia has also done pretty well toward breeding tolerance and diversity. There is no anti-foreigner political party in Australia, unlike most of Europe and large factions within the Republican Party in the US. This generous Aussie spirit toward immigrants may be one reason enterprising young people flock to Australia adding to its economic prosperity, an advantage America traditionally enjoyed. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hay Bales as Art

An Echidea, a rare Monotreme
That's Native to Australia
Angry Bird

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. We spent ours in Sydney. Unfortunately, while the rest of Australia basked under sunny skies, Sydney was overcast and rainy. Not the typical Australian Christmas that I was hoping for.  

In the small town of Tarringtona few hours' drive west of Melbourne, hay has become an art form. Tarrington is located in a beautiful region that I visited a few years ago on my way to Ballarat. Farming and wine are mainstays of the region, and tourism has never been big. However, Tarrington is quickly becoming a sort of art destination, especially during the Christmas season when the locals use bales of hay to create quirky Christmas decorations, which are placed outside their homes and farms. Each year the hay bales become more elaborate, and each year more people visit. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Australian Christmas

Darling Harbor
As an inhabitant of the northern hemisphere, I find the Australian Christmas all a bit strange, and it brings home how really distinct Australia is to the rest of the world. During the Christmas season, the days are long, and the weather is hot. Yesterday, the temperature in Sydney was 36° C (96° F).

All this hot weather got me to thinking. I try to imagine how an Australian child reconciles the season's decorations featuring snow and ice with the actuality of summer heat.

A couple of days ago, I watched an episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, a TV series set in Australia during the 1920's. In this episode, the characters celebrate Christmas in July by traveling to the Australian Alps to have a white Christmas. That seems like a lot of trouble. However, it illustrates how much of a hold the traditional image of Christmas has on Australians.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sad About Sydney's Bats

It was very disappointing to discover that the bats at Sydney's Botanic Garden are no more. One of my fondest memories of Sydney was seeing these large creatures known as the grey-headed flying foxes roost in a small corner of the Garden. Wandering through their habitat and seeing them hang from the trees made me realize that I was truly in an exotic environment.

Under Australian law, the bats are classified as a threatened species. Nevertheless, the authorities thought it more important to protect some of the Botanic Garden's palm trees, which are mostly introduced and not threatened, rather than set aside a portion of the Garden for the bats. The bats needed this refuge since their natural coastal habitats have been destroyed by urban development.  

So the "eviction" of the 22,000 bats came as a surprise when I visited the Garden this morning. It reminded me of Brisbane's decision not to rebuild its unique Mangrove Boardwalk

The Botanic Garden's new palm plantings, where the bats once lived, was pretty but seemed stark and sterile.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kangaroo Island: Unfulfilled Expectations

Jester, Pirate, Spiderman?
Digging Machine with Christmas Tree

Forlorn Santa
Put some tinsel on a digging machine and you got yourself a float for the Christmas parade. Pirates, Spiderman, and Court Jester on a Christmas float. Why not! Such is the Christmas parade in Kingscote, Kangaroo Island. What the parade lacked in sophistication was made up for in enthusiasm. Watching from our hotel balcony, you couldn't help but smile at the ad hoc mixture of costumes and participants parading down the street as 45 km/h winds and rains tried to dampen the holiday spirit. It all seemed fitting on our last full day on Kangaroo Island.  
I Just Arrived. How was I to Know?
Our visit to KI started out spectacularly promising. We saw dolphins swimming offshore, found an idyllic beach with clear turquoise water, and discovered a wonderful restaurant by the shore-- all within an hour of landing. Unfortunately, nothing lived up to that first impression. The swarms of flies and hot weather made the visit miserable until the winds and rain provided some relief from the pesky insects on the last day. (Though it didn't provide the best sightseeing weather.) KI can be summed up in what I said on the beach, "A fly went in my mouth. I spit it out, and it was still alive."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Adelaide is More Than Okay!

Along the River Torrens
Adina Hotel (Btm Left)
at Victoria Square

My heart sank as I glanced out the airplane window. We were landing in Adelaide and the arid landscape reminded me of central California. (I've had enough of central California to last a lifetime.) The taxi ride to the hotel confirmed my initial impression. Instead of the lively pedestrian-filled sidewalks of Melbourne and Sydney, the streets of Adelaide appeared empty. We drove past sprawling suburbs of cookie-cutter houses and strip malls. It appeared that our time in Adelaide would be pretty drab.

Two Galahs

However, things turned around when we reached our hotel, a former treasury building that manages to combine modern design without sacrificing architectural significance. The rooms are so large you can get lost in them, and there's a gorgeous garden courtyard with a beautiful fountain.

Adelaide is an easily navigable city with next to no traffic jams, and a city center where everything is within easy walking distance of everything else. Moreover, there's a beautiful green belt of parkland beside the River Torrens that runs right through the middle of the city where you can enjoy the outdoors. Here, I saw flocks of Galahs (a type of cockatoo with a rose-pink head and neck) roosting in the trees.

Enjoying Rundle Mall
Another Person Enjoying Rundle Mall

However, what I like most about Adelaide was its unpretentious and laid-back character. Although I wouldn't fly halfway around the world just to visit Adelaide, the city was refreshing after all the attitude of Sydney and Melbourne.

Dangerous Birds of Bodega Bay
Dangerous Birds
of Adelaide

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Kangaroo Island . . . Island of Flies

Me and the Flies
Flies! That is the memory that I will take away from my visit to Kangaroo Island. The travel guides don't mention the flies that seem to be everywhere. Locals characterize the swarms as everything from "shocking" to "usual for December." 

Taking a hike is nerve-racking and eating outdoors is miserable. The moment you step outside, they descend on you by the scores. They buzz around your face and settle on your back. Looking at a group of people in the distance, you see them waving their hands around. If you didn't know they were frantically swatting at flies, you might think that everyone on this island was engaged in passionate conversations using hand signals.

Remarkable Rocks
Admirals Arch

Don't get me wrong. Kangaroo Island is a very interesting place. Close to half of the island is either natural brush land or national park. It's surrounded by pristine waters, and contains arid landscapes and lush eucalyptus forests. KI is home to 15,000 kangaroos, 6,000 seals, 5,000 koalas, numerous dolphins, and 600 rare Australian sea lions; but clearly the dominant species is the fly.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cliff Top Trail From Coogee to Waverley Cemetery

View of Coogee Beach
from My Hotel Room

View of Coogee Beach
at the Start of the Hike

There's a stunning coastal cliff top trail that runs from Bondi to Coogee. The walk features amazing views, beaches, parks, cliffs, bays, and rock pools. It's not a difficult walk, and the beaches and parks offer places to swim, rest and eat along its 6 km.

My hike started at Coogee and ended at Waverly Cemetery, one of the most scenic burial grounds in the world. Here are some photos of the hike.

Entrance to Ocean Baths

People Enjoying a Swim
at the Baths

Do People Read Signs?

Row Boat Harbor

View of Waverley

Cloverley Bowling Club
situated on the Cliffs Overlooking
the Pacific

Friday, December 13, 2013

They're Bigger in Australia

Last night, as I was sitting in my hotel room, I noticed what appeared to be a bird fly into the room. Closer inspection revealed it to be a 4-inch-long flying cockroach. In Australia, the roaches are bigger and they fly, which brings me to yet another bus/bug story.

It seems that my most interesting stories about Sydney have occurred while I've been on public transport. (Traffic congestion in Sydney is terrible, and bus rides through the city take a long time.) Yesterday, as I was riding back from central Sydney, I felt the person behind me brush my shoulder. As I turned around, the passenger informed me that she had brushed off what appeared to be a poisonous spider. It was dark, sinister, and about the size of a US nickle. Then the two fellows across the aisle remarked,

Australian Copperhead
Hiding in the Marsh
"We haven't seen one of those in a long while. You were lucky. Those are poisonous."
At that point, the reality of Australia's deadly creatures finally sank in. In Tasmania, I came across a black copperhead, one of Tasmania's three venomous snakes, and here in New South Wales, I was nearly the victim of spider. At least the roaches are harmless. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Curious Incident of the Drunk on Bus 373

The bus ride on the 373 would normally take 30 minutes, but it ended up taking close to an hour, all because of a drunk who decided to take a nap in the aisle. I'm talking about my bus ride from central Sydney to Coogee, a beachside suburb where I'm currently staying.

It was rush hour, and the bus was packed. All of sudden, I heard a ruckus coming from the front of the bus involving an intoxicated man who was falling over passengers. He had had a few too many drinks and was barely able to stand. When one of the passengers offered his seat to the staggering man, the drunk became belligerent and proceeded to lie down right in the aisle blocking the front door. This caused the bus driver to stop bus and radio for police assistance.

There we sat and stood, wondering how this unfortunate saga would end when suddenly another 373 pulled up. All the passengers on our bus immediately exited through the back door and boarded the newly arrived bus. Unfortunately, the drunk decided to follow us. Just when it seemed like the whole thing was going to repeat, the driver of bus number 2 slammed the door right in the drunkard's face and started to drive. All the passengers broke out in cheers. The bus reached my destination without further incident. 

Brisbane's GOMA: Neuenschwander and Temin

Brisbane has a reputation for being cultureless, but nothing could be further from the truth. Brisbane has a lively arts scene, wonderful neighborhoods, great cafes, fabulous restaurants, and one of the best museums in Australia, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Every time I visit the GOMA, there's something new and exciting. This time I was completely blown away by Rivane Neuenschwander's Contingent.

Contingent is a ten minute video that presents a map of the world rendered in honey and consumed by a swarm of ants. As the honey 'continents' gradually erode and landmasses become fragmented islands, Neuenschwander's cartography is shown to be mutable and transient. Neuenschwander is telling us that the health of the world is contingent on the rate of consumption, played out in the video by the ever-decreasing number of ants able to access a diminishing supply of food.

My Monument: White Forest (2008)
Kathy Temin
Kathy Temin's My Monument: White Forest is also interesting. It invites visitors into a fantasy realm of white fur trees. As I wandered through the white forest maze, I lost track of time and space. I felt isolated, yet completely at ease. Is Temin's artificial park illusion or a reflection of reality?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brisbane's Mangrove Boardwalk is Gone

It's been 3 years since my last visit to Brisbane, and it's not surprising that things change. For the most part, I like the changes I see; however, one change that's disappointing is the loss of the Mangrove Boardwalk, which was located in the City Botanic Gardens (Mianjin). The Boardwalk was one of the most memorable experience I had in Brisbane. It was authentic nature, right in the heart of the city. 

Last January, a storm destroyed sections of the Boardwalk and the City decided not to repair it. At a time when Brisbane is spending 72 million on the Riverwalk project, it seems foolish not to spend 1.8 million to restore the Mangrove Boardwalk.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tasmanian Road Trip: Kempton, Population 358

Eric in Front of
Huntington Tavern
Rolling green hills, small farms, and quaint towns dot the landscape on the road from Hobart to Launceston.

Our first stop was Kempton (population 358). The first thing you noticed in Kempton are the sheep, which are pastured in the backyards of many houses. Before the advent of the railroad, Kempton was a major coach stop and boasted 11 inns. Today, there's just one inn and a scattering of beautiful buildings, including a Roman Catholic Church that has been converted into a private residence by a German expat.

Once a Catholic Church
Now a Private Residence
We were feeling fatigued (still suffering from Jet Lag) and wanted coffee. The only restaurant was the Huntington Tavern, the largest building in town. The parking lot was empty and there were no signs of life, so we assumed the place was closed; but eventually, we noticed the posted hours. It was scheduled to be open so we tested the door and walked in. We saw no one, and were ready to leave, but the proprietress heard us and warmly welcomed us in. We asked for coffee, and she replied, "Will plunger coffee be okay? I was just making some for myself." Actually, we prefer filtered coffee or French press coffee (plunger coffee, as they call it here). The plunger coffee was good and a nice break from the espresso drinks people seem to prefer here.

As we chatted with our hostess, a couple of the locals happened in for an afternoon beer and we got into a conversation. They offered us a sample of "sars and beer" (sarsaparilla mixed with beer). This is a local favorite, so it came with a story of when the mainland soft drink company took over the sarsaparilla maker and for a time, stopped making it--triggering an angry protest and much worry in central Tassie. Anyway, after an hour or so, we needed to move on, so we said goodbye and continued up A1.