Under and Back Again - Pt. VI
The weekend is over and BLUE Monday has arrived with a thump. Actually, it really is a BLUE day, because we have to say goodbye to Caloundra and our wonderful hosts at our sister school. The thump was from my suitcase, which now weighs about twice as much as it did when I arrived thanks to all the things I bought yesterday.
Our visit to the school is short and emotional. There's a morning assembly in which thank you and goodbye speeches are given. (I translate Mr. K's speech into English without any trouble.) Then the local boy with the excellent singing voice and a female student sing a beautiful rendition of "I Still Call Australia Home" that definitely caused eyes to water up. Of course, that's just the warm up. After the assembly, it's time for our students and their hosts and shadows to part company.
Needless to say, it takes a while for us to make it onto our bus.
Even then, the local students aren't about to let us go easily. (When I snapped this and other photos along the same lines the students behind me were pressed up against the windows wailing. Talk about an emotional parting!)
The drive to Brisbane Airport is uneventful mainly because the kids sleep most of the way there. All that outpouring of emotion has worn them out. Fortunately, it's a domestic flight, so check-in is quick and easy. We head to our gate, where we are given a nice surprise by our travel agents: Japanese-style bento box lunches with green tea. It's a nice, healthy change, and our group is pretty happy, but the kids seem far less enthusiastic than the teachers. I'm sure they'd be perfectly happy with sandwiches and Lamingtons.
The flight to Sydney is short and similarly uneventful. When we arrive at Sydney Airport, however, my gut decides to be despicable again, so I duck into the loo for what I hope will be quick relief. By the time I get out again, Mr. I has already gotten my luggage from the baggage claim carousel, and the students are waiting on the bus.
Guess where we go first...
And to think I was so close to performing here...until all those 11th grade girls last year decided that the dance competition at the school sports festival was more important, forcing us to withdraw from the event...but I'm not bitter. No, I'm not bitter at all. Can you tell?
Funny...I always imagined it would be a bit bigger than that.
The Harbor Bridge is certainly a lot bigger than I expected! It may not look like it in this picture, but when you're standing under one of those stone pylons and looking up it's pretty impressive!
Anyway, both of the halls in the Sydney Opera House are in use, so we can't go inside, but we spend a bit of time in the gift shop and walking around the outside, admiring the view. After that we're off to the Australia Museum
We don't have nearly enough time to spend at the museum. (One needs several hours to see everything. We have only half an hour.) We do manage to get into the Indigenous Peoples (i.e. Aborigine) exhibit on the first floor. I've learned a lot about the Aborigines and the way they have been treated, especially thanks to Andrew, but it still doesn't totally prepare me for the shock. The first part of the exhibit illustrates the culture of the tribes and also underlines how different they really are as well as how similar. Then it goes on to the institutionalized discrimination that endured for so long. Back in the 1960s the Australian government established the Aboriginal Protection Board which, in a misguided effort to improve the lot of Aborigine children, tore them away from their parents and put them in (white) foster families so that they would be brought up white. There is a section in the exhibit called "The Maze" which centers on the lives of such children and their trek not only to adulthood, but back to their own culture. It includes art, writings, and video interviews of people that had to go through that.
"I was made to feel like a white man in a black body." "I was made to hate what I am."
I'm nowhere near the extremist that Andrew is, but indigenous rights has always been something I feel strongly about. Even so, I'm not entirely sure why this is affecting me so deeply. I'm getting seriously choked up, and I have to quicken my pace. I just can't take this. Unfortunately (or even fortunately), it's all over the heads of my students, and I feel I have to explain what it's all about. I have a very hard time doing so, but at least now they've got it.
After that, we go upstairs to an exhibit on minerals and mining. It's quite fascinating. However, after having been through that very moving Indigenous Peoples exhibit and seen how Australia is trying to atone for some of the racist mistakes of the past, I am surprised to see a reference to "American Indians" here. Just for good measure, as we're leaving, I go to the main desk and point out that the term "American Indian" is obsolete, and that "Native American" is better. (I'm almost tempted to say "First Nations". Almost.) The three staff members there thank me.
(As we're leaving, I hear one of them sigh and say, "So it's 'Native Americans' now, is it? What's next, I wonder...")
Leaving the museum, we get a scenic tour of the city. My general impression of Sydney is that it is most definitely urban. Compared with Brisbane, it is much larger in scale, busier, and life clearly moves at a much faster pace. It's also not quite as congenial, though it is a very beautiful city. Whereas Brisbane is an odd mix of the very old and the very new, Sydney shows a lot more continuous development. I'd also have to say that, compared with Brisbane, Sydney seems a lot more...well...British. The look, feel, and style seem to remind me a bit more of London. (I sincerely hope that neither Olivia, YD, nor my various Aussie friends will take any offense at that!)
Anyway, after the tour we are taken to a famous duty-free shop in The Rocks. It is souvenir-hunter's heaven, and it is hardly surprising that almost everyone shopping there is speaking either Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. Our group goes hog wild. When we're done, we all emerge carrying massive loads of shopping bags, many of which are stapled shut and labeled "not to be opened until after boarding departing aircraft". Impatience can lead to a fine of several thousand dollars. That's fine. My souvenirs can wait.
We finally arrive at our hotel, the Sydney Boulevard. It's a tall, nice-looking hotel located downtown, and it offers a wonderful view from its top floor lounge/restaurant. There are some surprises, though. It's apparently part of a Malaysian/Singaporean hotel chain (Bayview Hotels), which might explain why the staff is overwhelmingly Indian (as in India, not Native American or even First Nation). In fact, it doesn't take long to notice that the place is packed, and the many guests are almost all Indian, Chinese, or Middle-Eastern-looking.
(Our students seem a bit nervous, as they are unaccustomed to dealing with so many different ethnic groups, but the Middle-Eastern-looking guests are actually the most polite.)
We have dinner up in the top floor lounge. It's actually the first Aussie beef I've had the entire trip. (It's also the smallest portions I've had the entire trip, but anyway...) Unfortunately, because of a miscommunication with the travel agency, they've cooked all our steaks well done, and they're rather tough. The kids don't seem to mind, but Mr. K is cocking his head and moaning again. (I'm moaning, too, but it's because I'm not allowed to drink anything alcoholic for the duration of our Sydney stay since our students are with us, meaning I'm "on duty". I'll stick to water. My gut will probably appreciate it.)
I don't think I'll have to worry about loud, drunken parties upstairs or people puking and spitting onto my deck (because I don't have one; nothing but a nice view of the city outside my 9th [U.S. 10th] floor window). However, they've put our full party on the same floor. Since this is the first night our students have all together, it's more or less a given that they're not going to be getting any sleep. They have a lot of catching up to do with each other.
Fortunately, I still have Kafka on the Shore.