The afternoon I arrived in Sydney was wet and muggy, and I still had no place to stay. I had tried the night before to book a hostel using the top-shelf computers in Fiji, but my time kept running out moments before hitting the “Book Now” key. Or, because of the craziness that is Sydney during the Christmas season, the hostels simply couldn’t guarantee accomodation.
Tom and Jim had said “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to find something at the hostel kiosk they have at the airport, and you can ring around to see who’s got a bed available.” I called my first choice, a place in the City Centre called “Wakeup!” (they added the puncuation, not me), and to my surprise they could give me a bed for 3 nights. As my first hostel, Wakeup! was certainly setting the bar very high. The place was immaculate, the beds clean and rooms huge, and the security was tighter than most banks. Keycards operated all the dorm doors, and you also had to swipe the card before you could press the button for your floor in the elevator (and, you could only press the button for the floor to which your card is keyed!). I walked downtown to see if I could find some free wifi, or at least wireless for the price of a cup of coffee. I tried Starbucks and was horrified to find out they had licenced their internet access out to Telstra, a telecom that provided almost-citywide wifi at cost. Bitter wasn’t the right word, pissed off was getting warmer.
After taking a stroll around Chinatown (Wakeup! is on the corner of George and Pitt Streets, and George St. is one border of Sydney’s very large and very Chinese Chinatown) I walked back to the hostel to find another dormmate sitting on the floor reading. His name was Andy and he had just spent a long time traveling through the US. He even went to Houston, really, to which I replied “Did you *really* go to Houston?”. He said he didn’t mind it much, in fact he liked it better than LA, which he felt was the worst city he’s been to yet. We chatted for a bit and then he invited me out with his mates for a drink at the pub.
And so began my battle with pub security in Sydney. You see, the pubs in Sydney don’t hire their own bouncers or doormen, they farm it out to security companies who employ rather gruff individuals with nothing to do but exert what little power they have. Andy and I were gonna meet his mates at the Cheers Bar on George St. (yes, Cheers Bar like the one in Boston), but as I followed Andy up to the door, the bouncer stopped me and said I couldn’t go in. “I can’t go in, why??”. “I saw you stumble a little when you walked up, you’re too drunk.”
OK, so I had enjoyed a couple rum and cokes in the room before we left, but I was nowhere near even tipsie. I got pretty angry and started accusing him of being a racist when Andy just said that we’d go somewhere else. We ended up at a bar called Three Wise Monkeys (this would become a mainstay for me over the next 1 1/2 weeks) and had a great time. The bar was three floors, somewhat calm and relaxing pub on the first two, dance floor and live band on the third.
The next day was Christmas, and on Christmas everyone in Sydney goes to Bondi Beach. It was a little chilly for the beach, for me, but I took the bus over and walked around the boardwalk a bit.
Even the Hare Krishnas were there:
The next day I put a little culture in the mix and strolled through Hyde Park, the Rose Garden at the Botanical Gardens and then made my way through Circular Quay (say Circular “Key”) and to the Museum of Comtemporary Art. Here’s a shot from the Rose Garden, a really serene place right near the water:
The Museum was pretty good, showcasing a video art collection on the top two floors. There was also a pretty interesting Aboriginal art collection on the first two floors. The best part was that admission was free (freebie!!). And (’cause I think they deport you if you don’t take one), here’s your obligatory shot of the Opera House from the front of the museum:
That night I accompanied Andy and the Irishmen (James, Shane and Paul) on a pub night at a place called Scruffie Murphy’s (Scruffie’s, for short). And yet again, the bouncers just wouldn’t let a player play. We had spent about 3 hours there and I stepped out for a bit of fresh air. I went back into the bar and the bouncer didn’t even check my hand for the stamp because he recognized me. About 1 minute later, while talking to my friends, I was approached by two bouncers and asked to leave. Reasons asked, no response given. ??!
I spent the next morning, while packing to change hostels (I scored another 6 nights at a place across the street), thinking about what — other than blatant racism — could be behind their hatred of me being at the bar. I mean, let’s face it, most places I’ve been, I’m the only non-white, non-Chinese person there. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of Pacific Island/Black people I’ve seen in pubs around Sydney. It’s not looking good for an argument against racism. Andy, and later several other people, told me that the pub security in Syndey is just like that: they throw out anyone they don’t like for no apparent reason. It didn’t happen again and I did encounter bouncers (like the ones at Three Wise Monkeys) who were friendly and funny, but after that night, Sydney had left a very sour taste in my mouth.
By the way, I can’t believe that I have actually had to use the category “Racial Profiling” TWICE already.
Stay tuned for Part II, where I meet Brad and Phil from Brisbane and a whole fresh set of antics ensue (including dodging pimps and prostitutes in The Cross, a treatise on late-night pies, and madness in the Gardens around, say, 11:59:59 on 12/31).