Thursday, May 29, 2008

From Little Things Big Things Grow

Conveniently, the last week of lectures for my Indigenous Australia class overlapped with National Reconciliation Week. The week aims to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues to the forefront, while recognizing their culture and history. Over the course of the, er, course, we discussed the disadvantages and injustices faced by Indigenous Australians in the past and still today.

Sometimes the discussions were really depressing. These are people who have had their land stolen, were victims of what was essentially genocide, have had generations of children taken away from them, and are still fighting notions of being second-rate citizens. But this last week has been especially positive, focusing on recent changes and optimism for the future. The Sea of Hands really embodies that.

The Sea of Hands, which began in 1997, is a series of public art installations meant to symbolize support for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. People write their names on plastic hands (red, black and yellow like the Aboriginal flag; green and blue like the Torres Strait Islander flag; and blue, white and red like the Australian flag) and add them to designs across the country. Right now there is a display on the front lawn of Sydney Uni’s Great Hall.

The design seems to be a lizard and includes the word “Sorry” since in February the prime minister gave a national apology for the “Stolen Generations” of children taken by the government away from families.

We also learned about GetUp! which is an advocacy organization that supports a range of causes, including those of Indigenous Australians. The GetUp Mob remade a Paul Kelly song, “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” that makes a good point and has been stuck in my head since we heard it in lecture.

“It seems to me if we can imagine the injustice, then we can imagine the opposite. And we CAN have justice.”
Paul Keating, Redfern Speech 1992

When Art Is a Playground

Art is more fun when you can play with it. (Remember finger painting?) My friends and I got a good reminder of how much fun art can be the other day at the Experimenta Playground exhibit at the Carriage Works cultural center. It’s an incredibly hard exhibit to describe unless you’ve experienced the technology before. My pictures probably won’t be much help either because they don’t show the motion well (and because I had to take them very sneakily).

The exhibit features a collection of interactive and digital art from several artists. The first piece we approached was an overhead projector shining pink against the wall. A few wooden shapes and numbers lay unassumingly next to the projector, but when you drop a piece on the glass, noise comes from somewhere beyond and the projected image comes alive. Dashes outline your hand on the wall, and what looks like confetti falls out of the wooden pieces’ shadows.

Similar to the overhead work was the shadow puppet piece. When you held your hands in front of a large light box, it would reflect your hands with added features, like eyes, teeth or spikes. When I moved my whole body in front, my shadow appeared with funky hair, a bow, a horn and other additions. Even a simple shadow puppet of a dog came out looking like a monster. In this photo you can see how my friend could ‘burp’ when he opened and closed his hand.

Our other favorite creation was the underwater scene projected on the floor. Cartoon-like blowfish swam around freely, but would suddenly puff up and float if you stomped on them. If you stepped on the seahorses, they’d play different musical notes.

There were a few other pieces and short films that were a bit over our heads as far as purpose and meaning are concerned. But we got a kick out of the interactive works, which did feel like being at some sort of playground.

Like I said, it's hard to explain so you should really just see it for yourself.

Greetings from Sydney

With a few papers due last week and my mom visiting this week, my blogging has fallen by the wayside. But I have a stockpile of photos and stories to share...eventually. Until I catch up, enjoy this delightfully coincidental view of Sydney Harbour today from Milson’s Point.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Autumn in Sydney and a Theory

Sydney has a moderate climate similar to Los Angeles. Many of the trees are evergreen, but there are a few varieties gushing autumn hues on my street in Darlington.

The weather has still been beautiful lately, sunny and low 70s or high 60s. Definitely still t-shirt and light sweater weather…unless you’re Aussie, in which case scarves and coats are more appropriate. Just because a few of the leaves changed color and they can’t go to the beach anymore, some people have decided to play the fall part and dress like it’s brisk out. They all look cute, but I can’t figure out how they’re not burning up. I’m too warm if I have one light extra layer on, but there are people walking around in wool, for crying out loud.

And then I figured it out. Cool people don’t sweat. Of course not. Only those unaffected by climate are cool enough to wear the Sydneysider uniform — boots, skinny jeans/leggings, spiffy shirt, scarf, cardigan, and fall coat — when it’s a cloudless 68 degrees. I’m so unhip, I take temperature into account when I get dressed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Roses are red, violet and other hues

A friend and I spent some time Saturday exploring sections of the Botanical Gardens I still hadn't seen after three visits. For Mother's Day (and my mom's birthday the same day), here are some roses.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Day and Night

Here are two shots from the ferry heading to and from Manly Wharf.

I hadn’t intended to do such similar day and night views of the shore. I only realized it after I uploaded the photos. Actually, I hadn’t even intended on being in Manly till dark, but Sarah and I wandered awhile and had some hitches with transport. Oh well, the sunset was beautiful.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Royal Walk

I love waterfalls. They’re so simple —just water moving from high to low — but they have this paradisal element. They make me feel far away from anything urban or polluted. This Sunday I ditched the city for an 11km bushwalk in Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney.

A friend met me at Heathcote Station where we picked up the Karloo Track. The first 2.5km are mostly downhill to the Karloo Pool. If we had the presence of mind to wear bathing suits, we might have joined the group of kids playing in the water, but it seemed a bit cold anyway.

From there, the track begins to head uphill, and that’s where it gets confusing. Though we had a map and hike directions, we still had trouble following the trail. Despite a few wrong turns, we finally found the Uloola Falls. Of course, we missed the easiest way down, but our improvised (nearly vertical) route proved more fun, as they typically do.

Pretty, right?

From the falls, we took the Uloola Trail up, down and through tall bush, swampy paths and eucalyptus-lined service tracks until reaching Waterfall Station to catch trains back. It’s a good hike if you can navigate it properly. And steer clear of these devils.

Royal National Park seems to have some incredible hikes along the coast, including one where a waterfall drops into the ocean, but I don’t think public transportation will get me there...

Also, anyone know the best way to edit and save photos so the colors show as brilliantly as they do in my iPhoto? That spider is crazy red and orange, but appears washed out online.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fried Dough Tuesday

I’ve been on a roll with food posts, so how about another? Nearly two months ago, I discovered the Flying Fajita Sistas during a walk through Glebe. How could a name like that not pique your interests?

Even better than the name is the Tuesday special of $3 soft tacos and $3 tequila shots. Taco Tuesday quickly became a tradition among my friends. The regular menu is a bit pricey so we stick to the specials and the side dishes, including their incredible fresh tortilla chips. These babies come hot out of the fryer, but they’re never greasy, just perfectly crisp and ready for a dip in guacamole and corn salsa.

The Sistas have become quite popular in recent weeks after some good press in the Sydney Morning Herald and the university newspaper. But instead of pouting when we can’t get reservations, we visit the Sistas’ neighbor, San Churro. Okay, we still pout, but the San Churro Chocolateria is a few doors away on Glebe Point Road and just as satisfying.

They specialize in Spanish hot chocolate and churros... do I need to convince you any further? The hot chocolate is wickedly rich and begs to be shared. My favorite is the Buddha Baci, chocolate infused with hazelnut (yes, like hot, liquid Nutella), followed by the Azteca, spiced with cinnamon and chilli.

The churros are also amazing. Hot out of the fryer, not greasy, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, waiting for a dip in melted dark chocolate and rainbow sprinkles hundreds and thousands.

To sum up, Flying Fajita Sistas: chips and tequila :: San Churro: churros and chocolate. Either option guarantees a good and gluttonous evening.

(For the record, that was a night we had 14 people at the Sistas.)

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Photoless Visit to Dulwich Hill

The above photo, just to catch your attention, is from a corner in Newtown after my walk through Dulwich Hill. I don’t have photos from Dulwich Hill because I felt out of place with my camera. The neighborhood isn’t touristy at all, but my little digital camera is.

Why did I want to walk around the humble westerly neighborhood? The New York Times told me to. Well, it didn’t tell me to, but it convinced me to. (Newspapers are good at doing that.) I’d read an article called “In Dulwich Hill, Sydney, Finding the World in a Few Blocks,” and hey, if that’s where the world is, that’s where I’ll go.

Believe it or not, I think I found a good chunk of the world. I must have heard four or five different languages just as I walked down Marrickville Road. I got off the bus in what would probably still be considered Marrickville and made my way to Dulwich Hill. There’s nothing flashy about either part of town. It’s no Paddington or Balmoral. It’s a working class area with a diverse immigrant population. The streets are lined with discount stores, butcheries, Portuguese chicken shops, Greek cafés and Lebanese patisseries (with more unassuming pastries than Balmain). There’s even an Egyptian restaurant. Very few chains to be found.

A prime example of the authentic local feel came when I stopped in Eumundi Smokehouse (several Sydney food bloggers seem to be fans). A man was browsing the sausage selection when the woman behind the counter asked, “Were you here last week?” He said yes, and she said, “Yeah, you bought two of the hot Spanish pork sausage last week and left them on the counter. What do you want today? I owe you two sausages.” I thought that was great.

The houses along Marrickville Road were single-level Federation style with small front yards, compared to the Victorian row houses on the narrow streets of Darlington, Chippendale, Redfern and other areas near campus and around Sydney. The area reminded me of West LA where I lived with my parents in a tiny house when we first moved to California. Both have a lot of immigrants and working class people. The businesses meet needs without any additional flash.

I bought a scarf and sweater for $9 total at a second-hand shop, which if I was in the cooler Surry Hills neighborhood would be called vintage and double or triple the price. Same distinction between West LA and Melrose in Los Angeles.

I’m not going to romanticize Dulwich Hill like the New York Times, but the neighborhood had a good feel to it. Lots of life. Real life, at that. It's always refreshing to get out of the Uni conveniently relate back to the main photo.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Food Food Food in Balmain/Rozelle

Most people learn of my food obsession very soon after meeting me. A few dead giveaways would be the hundreds of photos on my iPod of food I’ve cooked, the detail with which I describe things I’ve eaten, the exhaustive list recipes I’ve bookmarked, the number of times a week I mention Smitten Kitchen...

For these reasons, Balmain and Rozelle are almost too much for me to handle. The two neighborhoods partnered for a Food Week toward the end of April, which I’d heard about in the paper, but didn’t make it out for. Since Friday was warm and we were looking for a walk, I convinced two friends to join me on a foodie excursion.

We got off the bus on Darling Street in Rozelle, just a block from The Barn Café and Grocery, which is like a smaller Dean & Deluca plus a corner of Crate & Barrel’s kitchen section. We continued up Darling Street, stopping every few stores to gaze at the pastries. I’d venture to say Balmain/Rozelle has the most pastries per capita in Sydney.

And cafés. We passed so many cafés advertising autumn soups — which is fantastic because I love squash and pumpkin. I prefer spring weather, but I can’t hate on fall food.

As Darling Street became residential, we noticed the harbour to our left. We changed course and found a beautiful park.

We made our way through the side streets back to Darling right in the heart of Balmain. This area is packed with nice restaurants I can’t wait to try when my mom comes to visit and I have an excuse to go.

I imagine a great sunny Saturday would involve a ferry from Circular Quay to Balmain, a look through the Balmain outdoor market, lunch at nearly any of the cafes, a pitstop at the park before walking down Darling to the Rozelle weekend markets, then getting a pastry before heading home.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Burritos and Remembering Home

There probably few families in America that have put more money toward Chipotle Mexican Grill than mine has. We usually have home cooked meals, but when we go out in Los Angeles, 90 percent of the time it is to Chipotle. It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s delicious, and if you order right, it can be decently healthy. I don’t claim that it’s authentic Mexican food, but I love it.

Well, Sydney doesn’t have Chipotle. But I just found the next best thing: Mad Mex in Darlinghurst.

Same concept as Chipotle: fresh ingredients along an assembly line piled into burritos, tacos, quesadillas or bowls. The quality at Chipotle is a few notches higher and the prices a bit lower (considering tax and conversion rate, it isn’t grossly different). Still, Mad Mex hits the spot.

I head to Darlinghurst with a feeling I’d be disappointed. It’ll cost too much, won’t taste the same, won’t be enough food... But as we joined the line spilling out the door, I could smell those familiar scents. The night air even felt like California. Excuse me as I get nostalgic, but I really felt like I was back home.

The burrito was really good. Through dinner I discussed all the subtle differences: lack of bay leaves in the black beans, uneven onion-to-green-pepper ratio, not enough salt and cilantro in the rice...but nonetheless, it satisfied a certain yearning.

As part of their specials leading up to Cinqo de Mayo, Mad Mex has $5 margaritas. Knowing how much my dad loves the margaritas at Chipotle, I figured he’d be disappointed if I didn’t try one here. It was pretty good, but probably not better than back home.

I still have that Chipotlesque taste in my mouth and full in my belly, and it makes me happy.