Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia

I don’t generally visit zoos, but the Taronga Zoo is considered a must see on the list of Sydney tourism. I don’t like the idea of animals placed in cages for our entertainment, and I fear that one day the only way we will know of animals will be in zoos and old National Geographical magazines. Yet still, I went. In February of 2014, while I was in Australia during my holiday vacation from China, I agreed to visit the zoo. In order to get to the zoo you have to take a boat across the harbor, and the idea of prime real estate with an amazing view of the city being devoted to animals seemed kind of awesome.

It was a nice place. I could say the animals liked it there, but in truth, I didn’t know what the animals liked. I assumed the Koalas were perfectly content just as long as they could get high off their eucalyptus, but the tigers seemed very restless, and possibly would have been much happier being free in their native habitats. I can’t speak for the animals, but based on my perception it seemed spacious, and that the animals were well cared for so if one were to feel compelled to visit a zoo, I think the Taronga zoo is one of the better ones.

This zoo was probably the third or fourth zoo I had ever been to in my life. As I had mentioned it was across the Sydney harbor and there was quiet a lot of space, and my friend and I ended up spending the entire day there and still did not manage to see all of it. It was a very hot day, and we both ended up getting extremely burnt. I’ve posted the pictures of my favorite animals and one or two of my friend and I.

CIMG2160

CIMG2186

CIMG2188

CIMG2190
This guy was my absolute favorite.

CIMG2194

CIMG2197

CIMG2199

CIMG2202
The closest I’ll ever get to a Komodo Dragon, ever.

CIMG2210

 

CIMG2220

CIMG2222

CIMG2227

CIMG2239

CIMG2255

CIMG2263

CIMG2265

 

CIMG2273

CIMG2278

CIMG2290

CIMG2301

CIMG2305

 

CIMG2316

CIMG2323

Gertrude Street Melbourne

Days before beginning my trip on the Great Ocean Road, and a week-n-a-half before my mother dies, I a sit in a beautiful park looking up at a blue sky. It is 34 degrees Celsius and it is hot. Next week there will be fires surrounding the city of Melbourne.

It is late January in Australia which is summer to those of us from the northern hemisphere. I’ve never experienced a sunny February since 1992 when I had lived in Hawaii.

Where does all of this take place? In the past or the present?

It’s always the past unless it is happening exactly when it is happening, and as I gaze at photos from a year ago, and you read this post possibly years from the date it was written, I write it as I again sit in a cafe in June. I’m sitting across from a new friend that is going to leave the city for a new life. This morning around 8 a.m. another new friend, left Prague. My heart feels a little heavy since when you live your life traveling (or partially traveling) you fall in love with people so quickly. The friendships are so precious- as if we had all known each other for years, but this is impossible. I used to ask myself, would we even be friends if we had met in another lifestyle, in the nine-to-five world, would the age differences and the cultures matter more in our daily relations? I stopped asking these questions because they are useless questions.

Friends are yet again leaving my life. Yes they are leaving, my life. It sounds selfish, but this is all from my perspective, and I only know what I see and feel within my periphery. They walk into and out of my life or I walk into or out of their life, but from my perspective. Once we separate everyone becomes a story, just like I am a story to them. It’s remarkable.
CIMG2912

 

Lisa left Australia a week before I did. I had more time because in China as a teacher you get up to a month off during the winter holiday. It’s a huge perk. They offer this month break in many countries, the U.S. does not, so Lisa had to return to the states after two weeks. This left me with about four or maybe five days on my own.

We met a friend of a friend of Lisa’s in Melbourne. Craig. He was a nice guy, and a talented artist. He walked us all around the city of Melbourne at breakneck speed. He didn’t drive and so he was an expert walker. Craig introduced us to this beautiful park the Fitzroy Gardens in the city near to where we were staying.

 

CIMG3319

After Lisa left and I returned from my Ocean road trip, I spent one day wandering around the city by myself and I finally found Gertrude street. Lisa did end up finding it before me, but I didn’t go with her that day preferring to loll about in the gardens instead of shopping. I’m not a shopper.

My favorite thing is to wander, take some photos, and then sit in cafes drinking coffee or drinking something while people-watching and writing in my journal. I’m jumping a little ahead- on my last day I spent the earlier part of my day with Craig.
CIMG3320

Craig had walked me over into the Italian part of the city and we had these amazing watermelon granitas. A watermelon-lemon nonalcoholic crushed ice drink. They were so amazing, so refreshing we gluttonously had two each. Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, the cafe where we had the ice drinks was built in the 1950’s and it had that wonderful 1950’s cafe design, and apparently it was the same interior as it was 58 ago. The seats at the bar and the checkered floor. “Come back to the Five and Dime Jimmy-Dean Jimmy-Dean”. It reminded me of the Italian cafes you find in San Francisco or New York.

Melbourne has an Italian and a Greek part of the city, it also has a Chinatown that is the oldest Chinatown in Australia. “Country-towns” all have a kind of movie appeal. As if it’s all a set, and you are the actor in the film. You travel to a foreign country, and then have lunch on the movie set of another foreign country, then go for a walk in another movie set foreign country, and dinner in yet another, and somehow the Greek town in Melbourne has a likeness to the Greek town in San Francisco, but you have a difficult time finding the Greek town in Greece. It’s true, we are all just folding over stories and illusions. I do enjoy the layers. I don’t think Prague has any of these. Everything thing in Prague is Prague- maybe on the outskirts, maybe some Russian parts. I’m not sure this is a new and extemporaneous thought.

I didn’t spend a lot of time wandering through Chinatown since I had been living in China during my time of visit, and Chinese food outside of China is never as good as Chinese food in China. As a side note I think San Francisco’s Chinatown can at times give you the closest idea of what it is really like in parts of China.
CIMG3322

Craig took me to the sky view of the Eureka Tower, but because of the fires we were not able to see anything. He kept apologizing that we paid to go up to the top of the tower and there was no view. I said, that it wasn’t a problem that it was just preparing me for my return to China where I never had a view because of the pollution. Nothing could have prepared me for my return to China, not even my mother’s last e-mail. We are never prepared for the reality of death, even when we think we are waiting for it. In truth, the fires didn’t prepare me for the pollution either. When Lisa and I first left Oregon we drove through and visited Crater Lake. There had been terrible fires that year; it was August 2013. The skies were full of smoke and we could feel it in our skin, but fire is a clean smoke and the burning wood leaves a different residue. In China it is concrete and chemicals- forest fires don’t prepare you- a walk through a burning chemical plant would be more appropriate. I suppose you prepare for life the best way that you can and then walk through it with balance so you can catch yourself as you fall.

As soon as I had returned to China, and a day after I found out my mother had died, Craig sent me a photo from the tower because the smoke had cleared and he wanted me to see the view. Unfortunately, since my mom had died I didn’t see the photo till two or three weeks after he had sent it, but the kindness was not over looked. Kindness and thoughtfulness can never be overlooked. I had left Craig’s story in this story of my story. I don’t know how his story continued, but I kept the photos and the friendly e-mails.Now I write about him here in a story.
CIMG3323

The last moments of my day in Melbourne and Australia were spent on Gertrude street in the Sila cafe, eating cookies, and drinking coffee, and writing. All of my favorite things. I had always wanted to be a beatnik, but felt I lacked the talent of words,and I was born about 30 years too late, but I did know how to drink coffee and too much wine plus I knew how to meet truly interesting and talented people. That was about as beatific as I could ever get.

I was particularly fond of this cafe because it reminded me of one of my favorite places in the world; North beach San Francisco in Cafe Trieste where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the God Father, and the where the beats, and the poets, writers and artists of the San Francisco Renaissance converged to create or cure a hangover or just hangout.
CIMG3329

Writing these post from the past while in a present tense, yet thinking about the future, I am aware of the constant intersections as if life was a highway. The common cliche of the open road or the drive through life, and there are so many on and off ramps. We think we have maps, but they are often outdated, and even with modern technology we still don’t always know if we took the right turn. Not that it matters, because it’s all about the journey, right? I think a lot of the journey is about the people you meet and the things you do, and how open you are to the experiences offered.
What will you do with your one precious life? I ask myself constantly, and more so now that she’s gone, my mothers gone. I don’t ask myself so much what’s the right choice, I cat because I have to accept the choices I make. That’s not the right questions. The right question is what will I do with my precious short fragile life? What will I do today, and how much of it will be devoted to tomorrow?

Melbourne Graffiti-Part 2

Wandering around the city of Melbourne looking for Gertrude lane Lisa and I were lost. I didn’t know anything about this lane, but Lisa who owns a cool resale shop in Portland, knew that Gertrude lane was famous for hip shops with interesting items. Lisa has always been an expert of spotting something unique and at a low price which is really hard to do these days since resale has become such a booming business.

She’s always been good at finding deals but not great at directions. I don’t know where we were, she didn’t either. We had taken the tram a bit of a distance out of the central part of the city. If there was a Gertrude east we were on Gertrude west. There wasn’t a lot out in the area we were wandering around, mostly residential. We found a quaint coffee shop, and a couple of thrift stores, but the great discovery was this dead-ended alleyway. CIMG2555

CIMG2557

CIMG2559

CIMG2561

CIMG2562

CIMG2563

CIMG2564

CIMG2565

CIMG2568

CIMG2570

CIMG2573

CIMG2577

CIMG2578

CIMG2584

CIMG2587

CIMG2588

CIMG2591

All kinds of hidden nooks and alleyways with tiny shops can be found in random neighborhoods.

CIMG2549 CIMG2550

We found ourselves back in the city near the National and International galleries, and from there we headed over to Hosier Lane.CIMG2616

CIMG2620

Hosier Lane is one of two well known graffiti alleys. I’m not certain how long artists have claimed these alleys as places to make art, but there are several layers of paintings and stencils. The work is always changing because in the graffiti world nothing is permanent- unless of course you are Banksy or something and you become one of those coveted street artists and your shit sells for millions. I guess in a way it was street art that first got Basquiat seen, but his canvass work surpasses his street work- in my opinion- on a tangent here…CIMG2621

Hosier Lane has become a tourist attraction. This alleyway that has been painted and repainted again and again is like a rotating gallery. The alley gallery. What you see today will not be there the next time. I can promise that what is in these pictures are not there now.

CIMG2625

CIMG2628

CIMG2629

CIMG2639

CIMG2640

CIMG2641

CIMG2624
Artist at work

As you can tell by the limos, and taxis, and people wandering through the ally, that is directly across the street from a museum, that this is no ordinary alleyway.
CIMG2895

CIMG2896

One museum is for free the other has a small fee, and both are worth the visit.

CIMG2901Melbourne is a beautiful place.