Nov 27, 2014

Week 8: Sydney, Melbourne, and... Paris?

When I've asked Australians about what makes their culture unique, they have a hard time coming up with an answer. Boomerangs? For tourists. Spiders and snakes? They have them, sure, but not in the cities. Crocodile-wrestling locals and beach-dude surfers? While they do exist, they don't exactly represent the majority of society.

What's distinctly Australian? The answer, I've found, is multiculturalism.

Chinese-Australian Pride; the University of Sydney

Australia as a country is even younger than America, and also a modern melting pot with British roots. When you're walking down the street amid Victoria Era architecture, you hear a multitude of European and Asian languages being spoken. Immigration policies are not nearly as restrictive as the US, so I met many young people, especially Chinese, who had just arrived in Oz on working holidays and temporary visas.

As Sheila explained to me, you're looked on a bit suspiciously in Australia if you're too religious or too political, or even excessively ambitious. Combine that with the fact that guns are illegal, everyone has healthcare, and the minimum wage is more than AUD $16/hour (compared to US $7.25), Australia seems like a more pleasant version of the States (minus the deadly wildlife).

Bronte Beach

Something else uniquely Australian: the walk from Bronte to Bondi Beach. Here is where you'll meet the surfers, strutting on the beach with surfboard bands around their tanned ankles. The walk itself is gorgeous, winding along the rocky coast with a constant view of the ocean and its powerful, crashing waves. Just watch you don't step on the stinging "blue bottles" (Portuguese man o' war) -- these cnidarians resemble tiny rolled-up plastic bags littered on the beach. Though there were hundreds of them, this didn't stop locals from hitting the sand on the near 40ºC (102ºF) day.

Festival Français De Melbourne

The very kind family I stayed with in Melbourne offered me a free ticket to go to Melbourne's French Festival. I spent the morning walking through small boutique tents, trying artisan cheeses, and applauding the antics of the Parisian stereotype performers.

I hesitantly bought a pain au chocolat (chocolate bread) -- I'd had them often while in Paris in 2011, and actually went through withdrawals from the lack of them, but my experience with Panera's lookalikes was dreadful. When I bit into the pastry: bliss! It was the real thing! That one piece of bread gave me a lot of simple, unexpected joy.

Also present at the festival was Andrew Prior, a former contestant on Australia's MasterChef (and the only one in the show's history to be retired for a medical emergency when he wrecked his knees). He currently hosts food tours around France, and had a half hour program where he talked about the sights and savories of Paris, Dijon, and Lyon. The way this man talks about food, whoa - it had everyone mesmerized. By the end, the audience was salivating and several were willing to forgo the tour's $10,000 price tag.

At the Melbourne Zoo: a koala, kangaroo,
Tasmanian devil, lemur, and blue-billed duck.

Thanks Laurén for suggesting I visit the Melbourne Zoo -- it was wondrous! There are no gates separating you from many of the animals, and you enter sections of their habitat like a visitor into their home. As you walk through the bamboo forest towards the Asian elephants, it's as if you were not in a zoo at all; each diverging path from the entrance plunges you into a new environment. There were so many animals, especially birds, I'd never seen or heard of before. There's so much more out there than we even know.

Get your knife and fork ready...
Besides in the zoo, I also came into contact with a kangaroo... at the grocery store. How does a 'roo steak differ from cow? I found kangaroo to be very tender and juicy, like slow-roasted beef at a very good restaurant. I liked it!

I've enjoyed this time in Australia, though I've often felt very lazy for want of a "cultural skill" to learn like the other countries I've visited so far. Tomorrow I'm off to Bali to try my hand (and arms and legs) at yoga. Tell you about it soon!

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