Sydney Express

Or Why I Really Need to Sleep

I don't really feel jet-lagged, so much as just chronically exhausted. I kept myself up the night before I left Vancouver, at first because I was excited and later because I was worried about sleeping in. By the time I got to the airport I was ready to go to bed. Instead I spent 13 hours flying in perpetual daylight, up over the top of the Pacific. My seatmate was a friendly guy, on his way to China to visit his mum for Chinese New Year. We both ordered Tsing Tao, which he proudly told me was the beer from his home town and the best beer in China. Because I was flying with China Eastern, the mediocre airline food was mediocre Chinese food. In short, my love of noodles has been seriously shaken.

We were late to leave and even later into Shanghai, turning the Shanghai layover window into a tense one. It was dusk when we landed, the plane dropping down through a thick haze to offer a view of Maoist building block developments arranged with far too much symmetry.

Everything anyone told us was contradicted by someone else. Our passage through Chinese Immigration a classic bureaucratic farce of entry and exit forms filled out to move from one part of the airport to another. The flight was inexplicably delayed, they changed the gate and didn't really tell anyone. All I wanted was to go to bed, to get on the plane and drink my ration of two beers really fast, and just properly pass out. But there was a school group, and they were excited, and they were seated right down the middle of the tail, scurrying and chattering and throwing pillows. It was a long night. At some point I lost consciousness and I woke up to the end of "Tron" on the movie screens. Noodles for breakfast.

It gives me a certain elemental satisfaction to effectively plan for contingency. I felt a bit redeemed in the past thirty-odd hours when both of my flights were delayed to different degrees. I had booked a cheap flight from Sydney to Melbourne for this evening, allowing for all manner of catastrophe along the way. All told, we were only an hour late getting into Sydney from Shanghai this morning, which meant that by noon I was standing in the domestic departure area of the airport staring down a four hour wait before I could even check in.

Having spent the vast majority of the past day and a half either in an airport or on a plane, the thought of once more being crammed into seat that pinched my knees whilst breathing the stale exhaust of far too many people was starting to make me feel strangely homicidal. When we landed this morning I had to call upon all of my yogic relaxation skills to calmly wait as the plane slowly emptied, rather than plowing down the aisle to the emergency hatch in the tail and cranking the lever.

I decided that four hours was actually a fair bit of time. So I checked my bag, hopped on the train, and charged off to take in the sights of downtown Sydney.

First impression: on the train, I was struck by the number of homeless men who were scattered throughout the cars and platforms. This seemed especially odd given that the access to the trains seemed quite tightly controled and the fare borders on outgrageous. It did finally dawn on me that these are just what Australian men look like who don't spend the entire day sheltered in an office. I suppose it's not so hard here to acquire that weathered look.

I walked by the Opera House, and wandered in the Botanical Gardens. It was lunch time so the streets were busy, the business district alive with lunchers. Overall the city feels a lot like a classy version of Ottawa in the summer. Everyone is well dressed, but in a way that suggests a concern with propriety rather than fashion. To be fair, the place is brimming with tourists; every second voice is speaking a language other than English. It is hard in all such tourist spots to really guage what a place is like underneath the barnacles. The real Sydney will have to wait for another visit.