Making sushi while couchsurfing!
Now that I have been in Australia a full 24 hours, it is time for some initial impressions so that I can look back on them later and laugh.
I have started surfing... couches! It's much too cold for surfing in the ocean, and besides I have terrible balance. Couchsurfing is what I would call a movement-- awesome people building essentially a global community through shared experiences-- facilitated by the website www.couchsurfing.org. It's not an outlet for free places to stay, it's about meeting people and sharing their home and hometown, doing the same for others in your hometown, or even just meeting for coffee or a drink with a passing traveler. I'm staying with a really neat girl in Marrackville, a quiet Vietnamese and Greek neighborhood in southwest Sydney. Last night we had a lot of fun chatting while making sushi and sharing a bottle of wine at her house. She has a sweet kitten named Pixie, worm composting in the backyard, and awesome stories from her travels in Thailand and Morocco and Norway. I now have a set of keys, full access to the vegemite in the fridge, and leftover sushi for lunch. Loving this!
Yesterday I spent the day wandering around the harbor area looking for all the world like a silly tourist. I became obsessed with photographing awesome-looking but common birds in the park, which Im sure is the equivalent of fawning over squirrels and pigeons in the US. Cockatoos (cockatoos!) are everywhere here. They seem to enjoy making the most blood-curdling screeches as they swoop past your head for sport. Haha! They clearly scorned my fresh-off-the-boat ways. I spent about an hour in the Royal Botanic Gardens (once the government farm back when Sydney was a penal colony) trying to find two trees that would be good to hang my hammock from, but it seems they anticipated this sort of renegade behavior and spaced the trees accordingly. Probably for the best, since it was a little too chilly to comfortably hang out in a hammock for long.
Just when I was feeling the serious fatigue also known as jet lag start to set in, the Art Gallery of New South Wales appeared and beckoned to me with its warmth, free exhibits, and clean bathrooms. The basement, where they keep the Aboriginal art, was my favorite. I learned a lot by eavesdropping on a guided tour, but there are so many concepts that I need to learn more about: "dreaming," the significance of using dots (one painting was a series of lines depicting a spear straightening ceremony, but if you looked closely the lines were all made up of dots), the meanings behind decorated logs where the ashes of ancestors are kept, etc. Hopefully I'll learn some of this at the Australian Museum today.
Sydney isn't what I expected from looking at maps and pictures. From my one day of experience thus far, it is much more compact and friendly than all the talk about the city as a busy metropolis leads you to believe. After two hours I fully expected to run into Nate Looney while wandering around downtown at lunchtime. That's how cozy it feels. I made friends in crosswalks, on footpaths in the park, and at restaurants. Really. One retired gentleman I met in a crosswalk even let me come along with him to a free lunchtime concert at the Conservatorium of Music. On the train, people notice your existence (all in a friendly way of course). The one place I did not find folks to be so warm was, ironically, the Visitor Information Center.
Off for another intrepid adventure! Today: Australian Museum, ferry to Manly beach, perhaps a film at the Sydney Film Festival, dinner and hanging out with Nate, and drinks at the pub with my couchsurfing host and her friends!