White (Hot) Christmas

Saturday, January 05, 2008

As Christmas approached, I began to accept more and more that there would be no Christmas here for me. In addition to being all about family, all the usual cues were absent. Snow, cold, Christmas carols (I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t hear anything of the sort), all absent. The decorations are definitely up, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The restaurant was busy, definitely that’s a Christmas-time cue, and then it completely died the weekend following Christmas. Then Christmas day came. I dressed for work like any other day, went downstairs, and Daren and Janine were sitting down by the Christmas tree wearing their red hats and telling me Santa had been by. And he got me a red hat too, not to mention a book called The Kite Runner. I have to say that this gesture and waking up to find people in the home besides me made me feel like it was indeed Christmas and there was something special about today. But special or not, I still had to go to work...

I got there early because it was going to be a very big day. And a hot day. In fact, it was 44 degrees Celsius, setting a record and giving Perth the distinction as being the hottest city on Earth that day. I showed up early so I could use the phone to call home, where it was still Christmas Eve, and wish my family a merry Christmas, and then it was time to run around and get everything done. Santa needed to know where to stand, what to do. Christmas menus needed to be on the tables. More salt and peppers needed to be found. Since we were adding a ‘starter’ course, more entrĂ©e cutlery needed to be found, too. And then it was noon, we opened the doors, and things went just fine. Sure, the power went out for about 45 minutes thanks to the fact that all our coolers and air conditioning overloaded the circuits, but we trucked on and everybody was quite happy with their meals. Even given the fact that they had prepaid for their meals and only had to settle their drink tab, we still got $600 in tips, which is pretty unheard of here in Australia.

We worked until about 5:30, and then Adam, Cam, and I caught a cab to Scannell’s where a Christmas party was just warming up. A bit of a swim, a few drinks, some bbq, and since we had Boxing Day off for our staff party, Cam and I didn’t want to get too revved up today, so we grabbed a cab home to rest for what would be our real Christmas. Doug and Tom arranged to pick me up and they were a bit late. We were supposed to be at the East St Jetty by 10:30 AM and we were picking up another couple at that point instead. I was worried we were going to miss the boat but we got there just in time to help load up. Whew. It was another scorcher, 45 degrees today, a beautiful shiny day to spend on a boat on turquoise waters sailing out to an island and going for a swim and BBQ. This day was a true Australian Christmas and I was so happy to have been here for it. We set off to the island and parked. You could see a bunch of sea lions sunning themselves on the beach, so I took a swim out there. I wish I could’ve brought my camera, I would’ve had some amazing photos, they really didn’t like being approached TOO closely, but I could get within 10 metres of them sunning and others alert on guard and it was just amazing to me to have them sitting there in the wild and to be right there watching.

I also donned my red santa hat and went for a swim and Crown Lager in the perfect waters and of course took part in the delicious buffet Warwick had provided. Steaks, scallops, prawns, lamb, salads, you name it, it was there. We drank champagne, we ate like kings, and sat on the beautiful waters enjoying the fruits of a very busy Christmas season. But all good things must come to an end, and we found the shore far too soon and after a bit of a situation involving someone stealing drugs from the ship’s medical kit, we were at the Newport having a few drinks, then at Megan’s house making what I can only imagine would be a horrible mess for the next day. I feel pretty bad for her.

I had the next day for recovery, and Daren made dinner, I made dessert, and we say around chatting before going to sleep. Then, some packing, and I was on a plane on the 28th for Sydney, where I would be celebrating New Years Eve. Virgin Blue, not as bad as I thought it would be, they even gave us free TV since the reception was so poor, but after watching a segment on an assassination in Pakistan – I’m so disconnected from world events here, both a nice feeling and disconcerting – I wound up typing up this blog and captioning some photos anyway. My pre-New Years resolution is to get this site back up to date before I leave Sydney, and I’m pretty on track to doing that I think. Anyway, I arrived in Sydney at 7PM and the North Sydney line was closed so I wound up on a bus and then not knowing exactly where I was. Carrying around all my stuff and trying to figure it out with sunburnt shoulders wasn’t as pleasant as it might’ve been, but I found Diane’s finally, and had some nice wine (yup, Rockford) with her and Craig.

The next day I went and picked up some hiking shoes since there were boxing day sales still on; I’ll need them for hiking in Tazzy and probably Asia, too. Then I met up with Jill, whom I met up in Darwin back in September, and Mel for some drinks in Darling Harbour. They were off for dinner and I decided that I’d watch Beowulf in the IMAX since I’d been wanting to see how this “new 3D” phenomenon I’ve been hearing so much about was going to pay off. To be honest, the movie itself wasn’t that interesting and the technology, while definitely adding a dimension to the show, didn’t seem that incredible to me. I guess years of 3D at theme parks and whatever has made it seem gimmicky instead of immersive, which is something I don’t think you want when you’re trying to generate verisimilitude. Maybe as more movies are made in 3D it won’t be as distracting. The next day was more catch up, another movie (No Country for Old Men) which was excellent, and grabbing supplies for my New Years Eve picnic. I got a hold of Andrew, who was coming down from Newcastle, Nathalie, who was coming up from Melbourne, and the English girls, and it seemed that everyone was content to meet at Mrs. Macquaries Chair, which is just as well, because that’s where I was going regardless.

So I woke up at 8AM the next morning, got ready and packed for the day, and was at the ferry by 9, though one didn’t come until 9:30. I knew the line would be growing and I really wanted to stake out a good spot – the gates opened at 10. I made my way straight to the line up and discovered it was HUGE. From the front gates I though I could see the end of the line way down the street, but it was just a slight curve and it kept going down Art Gallery Road, past the gallery, into Domain park, and wrapping around. I thought about walking all the way back and trying to sneak in, but no, it was my own fault for getting here at 9:45 instead of 7:45, so I bit the bullet and joined the line at the back. I made quick friends with some Americans in front of me and we had a pretty good time even waiting in line for the 3000 people ahead of us to have their bags searched. It took an hour and a half to get to the front, and they didn’t even search my backpack, I definitely could’ve brought in some champagne or spirits, but oh well. We spent a bit of time debating spots and I found one that I could fit that had a great view, but I couldn’t fit all my newfound American friends with me nor even any of the people that were supposed to be meeting me later, so I went for a different spot with them which still had a pretty decent view though no breeze. And it was HOT. This was probably the best decision I made that day, however, as it was good fun throughout the afternoon.

The park kept filling throughout the day and soon we had a friendly guy from Finland in front of us, Andrew showed with his Columbian friend, Nicholas, Nathalie showed with (eventually) her German friends, and some of Amber’s friends showed too. Although we were at the park 14 hours before midnight, the time flew. We played cards, chatted, drank, and joked around. Every hour from 1PM onward, something different was happening. The theme was “Having the time of our lives” and it was very appropriate for the day. Skywriters writing things like “Time Flies”, tiger moth biplanes doing stunts, cannon firings, and the list goes on. The sunset, a boat light show/parade, and then the first major event, the family fireworks at 9PM. Well. They were great. They put an hourglass on the bridge this year and it dropped a little ‘sand’ grain every five minutes until 9 and then thereafter. I was thinking they were going to have a tough time topping the family fireworks. Amber and I rejoined the gang from our vantage point and hung around until 10. Then, I decided I wanted to get a good spot now for the midnight fireworks, so I went with Nathalie and got a spot right on the water, or as close as we could get at any rate. Nobody else was interested apparently, but it was so worth it.

The countdown began and every five minutes another grain of sand and the circle around the clock lit 1/12 more. It was getting very exciting. 15 minutes left. 5 minutes. And then the pillars on the bridge started their countdown… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. Pandemonium. Fireworks everywhere. “Happy New Year!” being screamed by 22000 people also in the park with us. Fireworks off the bridge, the hour glass turned over, and kept turning and then spinning, the water reflecting the shining skies. Off boats to the right, and in the distance, far away but over the opera house, the main firework show (they do the same fireworks throughout the harbour, except for the bridge, which was a special treat for those in the centre). And then they started launching them off skyscrapers in the city centre. It was a panorama of explosions and beauty and it just kept escalating. Especially the fireworks off the boats, it just seemed like they could get any bigger or more frequent, but they did. I tried to capture a bit with video and photos, but without a tripod and an ultra-wide angle lens, I might as well have been trying to capture the entirety of the Great Wall of China from 30m back. And then came the finale, which literally dropped my jaw and camera. A ‘waterfall’ of white lava off the bridge, fireworks in every direction, colour, shape, and size. 3D fireworks. All at once and the most amazing pyrotechnic display I’ll probably ever see. The New Year had reached Sydney and I thought there wasn’t a better way to conclude a year down under or start 2008. This was the grand feeling we always try to get on New Years but are always disappointed by when it turns out to be like any other night on the town.

We left the park and Andrew and I crashed at Amber’s place, the York hotel right in the city. The next morning we had breakfast with her and her parents and they all went to Manly, which I was going to join them on, but by the time I’d ferried to North Sydney, changed, got my swimming stuff, showered, and got a ferry back, it was going to be 5:30 before I got there. I got on the ferry anyway, thinking I’d grab a bite in Manly anyway if I missed them, but then as I sat on the ferry it was delayed and more delayed and 30 minutes later I decided I’d had enough. So I went and saw another movie, The Golden Compass which was surprisingly good. I’m definitely looking forward to a sequel. I saw Bee Movie the next day, which was likewise good, clean, Seinfeldian fun - the glut of movies is in part because I had a bit of fever and achyness and wasn't up for much else. When life gives you lemons, go see a movie! But my holidays have been anything but a lemon. The final two days were, admittedly, marred by some severe technical issues with FrankBlack.Net, but my stay in Sydney comes to an end tomorrow morning, when I fly to Tasmania for a couple weeks of exploration, outdoors, and hopefully not too much internet. But the conclusion of this post marks the first time my blog has been up to date since the beginning of August, so at least all my work has come to something. I'll let you know what my Tasmanian adventures come to soon.

Christmas Photos
New Years Photos

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