Enchantment Lay Beyond the Pricey Countries
Evey year on New Year’s Eve, the city of Sydney in its harbor puts on arguably one of the most spectacular fireworks shows that the world has to offer. Being in Sydney for the occasion presented us with an opportunity. How could we miss it?
Tash recounted her time of attending the fireworks 2 years ago. Something like 1.6 million people congregate along the harbor for the show each year. To get a good view of the show, she and her friends set up on a sidewalk in a neighborhood at 10am, spent the day in the sun drinking from flasks, knocked on a neighborhood house door or two to use the bathroom, and after the show hung out at a bar until about 3am, waiting for the crowds to disperse so they could catch a bus home.
That sounded like a LOT of work just to see a 20 minute fireworks show, even if it was liable to be the greatest display of fireworks we’d ever seen and were ever likely to see. But then again, we were here, and when would this opportunity ever going to come up again? And what else were we going to do to make our time in Sydney quite as memorable? Were we just going to sit sadly at home that night in the suburbs, watching the show on TV even though it was happening just one bus ride away? How could we call ourselves world travelers if we squander such peak experiences?
So we were on the fence a lot about this one. What largely settled it for me was when my friend Anne gently paraphrased my own lowbrow profanity right back to me, saying plainly “Well yeah, so stop being such a great big pussy and go see the amazing fireworks show, already.”
Touché. At about the same time Tracy had similarly come around to the idea, that we should pack a lovely cooler of food to last, get to one of the harbor-side parks at around 11am, while away our time with e-readers, conversation and cards, avoid the sun under cover of umbrellas, and just have a nice picnic day with the bonus of a fireworks show at the end.
So we did just that. Out the door at 10:10am, we took the 309 downtown, walked 5 minutes, and queued up to enter the park. It was a winding queue that took about 2 hours to get through, putting us in the park around 1pm. All the spots with good views of the harbor were taken, but it didn’t really matter: everyone would be standing and crowded into the good vantage points for the actual show anyway1. We whiled away the day just as planned, and by our training of enjoying idle times with things like layovers and other transit events, it was a well-shaded cinch: hardly the suffering we’d imagined from Tash’s account.
The nine o’clock fireworks were very nice, and indeed the location of our blankets had no bearing upon where we would actually watch the show from. Afterwards we realized we had two and a half hours to pass before the midnight show, and we were feeling already a bit sleepy. So we simply napped, spooning all cute-like on our blanket. Now, I’m not saying that this is a lifestyle habit that I’m looking to cultivate, but man, sleeping in a city park was quite comfortable.
Firework warning shots served as our wake up call. Refreshed from the nap, we again huddled close into a group of revelers with a passable view through the trees and enjoyed the show. It was satisfying to think that we had indeed bucked up and gotten ourselves out for the event. The day was pleasant, it was not hard to pass all that time, and it was neat to think at that moment that I may indeed be watching the greatest fireworks show in all the world this year.
The night finished well. After the show we packed up and walked on back the way we came, right to the park-side street at which we were dropped off, and what did we find? A barely loaded 309 bus, just waiting to fill up and take us right back home. Five minutes later we pulled out, and we were back home by 1am. The process of getting home after our long day was smooth as silk: no camping out at a bar until 3am required.
My computer surgery ended up a long winded affair. For one reason or another, I couldn’t overcome the technical hurdles of cloning over the old drive to the new, and so eventually bit the bullet and resigned myself to reinstalling/rebuilding everything on my new hard drive, and copying over the important data piecemeal from the old. Though it broke my heart to lose those few good productive days, there was simply to manage the situation as it presented itself.
In the interest of good karma and fulfilling on our promise to be Grade-A house sitters, we made certain to leave Tash and Simon with their house in as good a condition as possible. We stripped & laundered our sheets, tidied the spaces, stocked the fridge with a case of Victoria Bitters, and greeted our hosts’ noontime arrival with a prepared lunch of quiche, salad, and fresh fruit2. When it was time for us to leave we exchanged fond goodbyes, I let Mustard jump on me and lay doggie slobber on my hands and arms one last time for good measure, and we were off.
Tash had welcomed us to stay with her & Simon for those last two days in Australia, but in the interest of experiencing a speck more than just Sydney during our visit to the continent we declined and opted instead to head for Katoomba, a small town nestled in the Blue Mountains just a pleasant train ride away. Our time there was pleasant but largely unremarkable, another chance to hike about some great outdoors and spend more than we ever thought possible on mere hostel accommodations. Given our sparse gear it was better than sleeping out in the bush.
One night for dinner we went to an Indian restaurant. I ordered a $16 lamb korma and Tracy a $12 daal dish, and I requested rice for our meals, thinking nothing of it. After a delicious meal we both had a bit left over, and asked for a little rice to go so as to make a great snack for later. When we were awaiting the bill I said to Tracy “I wonder if the rice is gonna be extra? What do you think, one or two bucks? That’d be fine, I guess. Four bucks and I’m making a scene.”
The universe sometimes, it seems, has a delightful way of calling me out to see me follow through on things I’ve brazenly declared3. Our bill cost $12 more than I calculated it should. The reason? $4 for my rice, $4 for Tracy’s rice, and $4 for our takeout rice.
“Excuse me, but, $4 seems a bit excessive for rice, and why is it not included with our meals? I don’t recall seeing it as a surcharge listed anywhere on the menu.” I was told it was on the menu, that people usually don’t ask for rice, or if they do they just ask for a little bit and he charges one or two dollars. “So wait, you’re telling me that you expect people to order a $16 dish of lamb in a bowl with lots of very flavorful and spicy sauce (it was delicious, by the way), but not order rice?”
“Well, they just order a little, or have naan with it.”
Our waiter, who might have been the owner as well, went off to tend to something else for a minute, mentioning that they had just opened last night and were still ironing out some of the kinks.
“Excuse me,” I called to some guys who had been recently seated at a nearby table, “do you might if I have a look at one of your menus? Thanks, mate.” A quick scan revealed no line item for rice, let alone $4 rice.
When our waiter returned I continued about the objectionable state of our check. “So there is no mention of rice in the menu, and I swear you said it was no problem to get a side of rice with our meals.”
By this point, I’m told, I had the full attention of the dozen or so other patrons in the small dining area.
I continued, “I’m a bit taken aback that our $40 meal has jumped to a $52 meal with something that I can’t imagine you not including with the meals you serve. Does everyone else here know that their meal will probably run them $4 more than the menu price, or do a lot of people in Australia just eat Indian mains not on a bed or rice? This feels like a nasty tack on, and had I known you charged $4 for a scoop of rice it would have been a different story, we simply would have not eaten here4.”
While I was oblivious to the attention of the fellow patrons, I reckon our host was not. Before long I recall the words “I just want to you to happy” being said as precursor to an offer to remove the offending rice charges from our bill, presumably an urgent gesture to rush me out and end the mealtime show.
It felt good to take a stand. Charging for rice is a pardonable sin, but doing so without getting informed consent is not. Because I’m either kind or stupid, I effectively nulled out a large chunk of the protest savings by tipping generously. After dinner we went to the store to get some picnic fodder, and with the adrenaline fading the humor of our dinner bill situation started to creep in. “Hey, this loaf of bread is kinda pricey, but at least it’s cheaper than rice!” Everything in the store was either cheaper than rice, more expensive as rice, or about the same price as rice.
So Australia was expensive, and the next phase of World Tour beckoned. With our strategic reserves of English-speaking white people more than replenished, we were ready to move on to less familiar cultural surroundings.
Our second morning in Katoomba we awoke to a 4am alarm, did our solitary walk in the brisk moonlight back to the train station, and watched the sun rise as we headed back to Sydney. Our travel day was long: 2 hours to the city, a 4 hour flight to Perth, a 5 hour layover, and then a 3.5 hour flight to Bali. Bleary eyed, we arrived at around 9:30pm in the Bali airport, did the dance through customs and getting a visa-on-arrival, and grabbed a cab.
We were so very tired when we arrived in Ubud at about 11:20pm (or about 2:20am as far as our bodies were concerned, thanks to timezone traversal). And yet, Bali had something magical about it that was immediately palpable. We got settled into a room in a guest house, and I forget who said it to whom but the conversation was something like “Hey I know we just got here and it’s dark and there’s nothing happening, but, I think I love this place.” to which the other quickly agreed, with just as sparse an understanding of why.
- We heard banter of folks who arrived at 7am to find all the spots with good views already taken, so no sense beating ourselves up over that one. ↩
- Tash was a dear and kept her weekly farmer produce delivery service in tact during our stay. We honored that thoughtful gesture as best we knew how by letting very little of it go to waste. ↩
- This one time I told everyone we’d totally get rid of our stuff and travel the world for, like, a year. ↩
- Did I mention I was feeling a bit price sensitive after nearly a month in Australia/New Zealand? To say nothing of how the unexpected surcharge plus their lack of credit card acceptance would necessitate another visit to an ATM–ugh! ↩