Monday, May 31, 2010

Pizza Hut in Hong Kong

Can I interest you in some Chinese pizza?

No? You say you'd prefer to eat dim sum and barbecued duck while you're in Hong Kong, because you can always eat pizza when you're back home?

Oh no, my friend, check out this photo and think again:

If you're not convinced by the Flamenco-meets-Chinese dancer, perhaps this close-up will lure you in:

Mmm. That's a lot of tentacles on one little pizza.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Aminalz! Aminalz! (Also: Fruitz!)

I'm itching to tell you about Hong Kong, but first I want to share some photos from our final day in Sydney. Because that was the day we went to the Taronga Zoo, and oh my goodness, Australian animals are the best! Isolation is truly the mother of weird and fascinating creatures.

Like this Spiny Echidna, whose tongue is as long as its body, whose males have four-headed penises, whose females are mammals but lay eggs and then carry their young around in a pouch for the first fifty days or so of life...

...and the Platypus, which Wikipedia describes pithily as an "egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal." That description left out the part where the platypus uses electroreception to stalk their prey. Like their brothers the echidnae, the platypus's egg-born young are called "puggles," which can only be a good thing in my book.

These wonderfully weird creatures so flummoxed European naturalists when they were "discovered" in the late 1700's that folks thought they were a hoax and tried to pry off their bills. Ow.

When I was a kid and everyone forced me to answer the question "What's your favorite animal?," my stock answer was the platypus. It was a delight to finally get to see one.

Of course, the star of the zoo, and needing no introduction, is the remarkable koala.

This guy's name is Irwin, and he seemed to take a particular interest in my husband.

We paid extra for a "koala encounter," which is why we're so close in these shots. Getting up close and personal with a koala was terrific, as was having the zoo-keeper nearby to answer all our questions.

Despite what that sign says, that's a kangaroo. Her name is Charlotte and her fur is very soft.

We also saw plenty of wallabys, one of whom was lying on her side when the white fur on her belly started gyrating like crazy. A zoo-keeper confirmed that she'd recently given birth and was carrying her young in her pouch. They were waiting for the little one to poke its head out, as none of the humans had seen it yet.

And to round out the Australian collection, an emu! It's not just a Scrabble word!

My goodness, that's a big bird...we saw it bullying the young kangaroos into giving up their food.

On the ride home at dusk, we finally saw the famous Sydney bats, thus completing our zoological tour of the continent down under.

And then these lovely people had us over to their home for a wonderful meal. Janet (woman farthest to the right) was our production manager at the Opera House, and she and her partner Adrian loaned us their very own table to use in our production!

I forget what this dish is called, but we'd had it the night before in a Chinese restaurant and loved it. Then we had Adrian's version, with finely diced apples and I-can't-remember-what-else, and his version was even better.

Dessert was an assortment of exotic fruits. Exotic to *me* at any rate. Of all the fruits pictured above, I'd only ever had one of them. TRAVELMONKEYS readers, I issue you this challenge: How many of these fruits can you name? And how many have you had the pleasure of trying yourself?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sailors Thai

...unless you post it to your TRAVELMONKEYS blog. Then it's immortal.

If you are ever in Sydney, do not miss the opportunity to eat at Sailors Thai. There's a posh downstairs, a more relaxed "canteen" upstairs...the food at either is exquisite. Really one of the best meals I've ever had.

Monday, May 24, 2010

One More Story Before I Go

We fly to Hong Kong today, which I'm finding both thrilling and nerve-wracking.

I have visions of myself paralyzed on the side of the road while pedestrians stream by, not being able to find an entry point, like a new driver who's frozen and unable to merge.

Then I think, Really? You've lived in New York how long? Surely you will learn.

But before I go, a quick story from Sydney.

So, we go to this restaurant for breakfast one morning, and shortly after sitting down I notice there's what looks to me like a parrot hanging out next to the table of a dour German couple.

The waiter comes by to hand us our menus and I ask him if the parrot belongs to the restaurant. He looks up and says, "Oh, those? They just come here."

Shortly after that two more of these magnificent birds (which I will later learn are Rainbow Lorikeets, a sub-species of the parrot) appear, and I take this picture:

The busser in the background notices and comes over to our table shaking a sugar packet. He pours it into my open hand and the birds flock to us.

The non-tourists around us couldn't be less interested. In fact, they're probably a little disgusted. I'm trying to imagine how I would feel if I saw a tourist back in the States encourage a pigeon onto their tabletop before eating.

But as you can see from this photo, I'm way too delighted to be cool.

I will pay for this later, when one of the lorikeets returns mid-meal to swipe a sugar packet from me.

More and more of his brothers (sisters?) return, and I keep trying to shoo them away--but in a quiet-ish way, so as not to disturb the Aussies around us conducting business meetings. I am unsuccessful.

Until finally Michael puts both hands over his head and says

cawww! CAWWWW!!!

It is so loud that absolutely everyone in the restaurant stops what they're doing, startled.

But it works, and the lorikeets leave us in peace for the rest of our meal.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sydney Psalm

It’s a constant embarrassment, this living.
The gloves come off and so do the panties,
the eyes widen but the feet march forward
--meanwhile the waves continue their assault
on the shore, boats carrying screaming
children and waggling businessmen rock
from side to side but no one is lullabied.

It’s a joke, this life. And also, a song.
A rude intimation, a whisper before
passing out. Everyone knows the ending,
yet we struggle to leave with our hats on
and our dignity intact. Fat luck, that.

--meanwhile the best bedtime story is yet
to be found. Climb that hill, scratch that old man’s
back. Ask the weatherman to speak, if he would,
on politics. Or maybe try spitting watermelon
seeds from a great height, then scuttle below
to see the pattern you’ve made, ooh and ahh
at their form, say, Yes, I was here.

You can summon lorikeets with sugar,
watch their rainbow heads bob in your palm
while you survey the harbor, belly full
of noodles, wallet full of cash.
What is there to do now, but sing?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Notes from Down Under

Well here I am, at the start of a two-month tour that will take me around the world, from Australia to Hong Kong to mainland China to Ireland, from performances at the mighty Sydney Opera House to a humble parish hall in rural Ireland. If ever there was a time for TRAVELMONKEYS, this is undoubtedly it.

And yet.

I'm having trouble because I can't quite see the point of it. Which wouldn't be trouble at all, except that three different dear friends of mine have recently been tugging/prodding/encouraging me to update TRAVELMONKEYS, and it's got me thinking about what it's all for.

I started this blog because I wanted a way to connect with my family and friends while I was on the road. Then along came Facebook, and goodness, it's been a blessing for me, allowing me to feel much more connected and far less isolated. It's also ridiculously easy to upload photos and post updates.

Of course, it lacks depth and persistence. Looking back at these TRAVELMONKEYS entries, I enjoy their scrapbook quality. I enjoy that I can flip back to my trip to Istanbul and see the photos I've arranged, the little narrative I created, and remember that time.

Facebook is like writing on the wind. Here it is and there it goes, and if it's been more than a week, it's already gone.

But creating good TRAVELMONKEYS posts is time consuming, and the process of uploading the photos is kind of cumbersome, and in the end it reaches far fewer of my friends than my posts to Facebook do, and honestly, I don't think the time it takes is worth it to me now that I have this other path to achieving that feeling of connection I seek.

So it's not looking good for ol' TRAVELMONKEYS, which might make about five people out there sad, myself included.

Because when I read the entries, I really enjoy them.

This is what I've been thinking about.

But maybe I'm going about it all wrong. Maybe the problem is that I'm trying to be too completist. Maybe I need to change my lens so that I'm not telling the story at the end of it all but right from the middle. Maybe I need to make a sketch of the place en media res, and whatever I capture, I capture, and at the end of that day, that is better than nothing. Maybe.

Like, if I were to write about Sydney right now, I might say something about how fun the differences in the English we speak are. Instead of a cinnamon bun it's a "sultana scroll" for "breaky." Coffee with steamed milk is a "flat white," without milk a "long black." Two things that don't belong together aren't apples and oranges or oil and water, but "chalk and cheese." In the theater, strip lights are known as "zip strips," bulbs as "bubbles," the cherry picker is a Cougar, and nobody says "break a leg," they say "Chookas," which has something to do with chicken, like if you do a really good job, you'll get fed chicken after the show instead of the usual scraps.

I might also talk about how every day I walk along the famous Circular Quay (which is pronounced like something that opens a locked door), dodging around tourists taking photos of themselves with all those iconic sights behind them: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which tourists in chain-gang suits pay to climb to the top of; the glowing eyes and rides of Luna Park beckoning from across the water; the ferries and sailboats and catamarans zipping back and forth from the Taronga Zoo, Manly Beach, and points beyond; and of course, the Sydney Opera House itself, probably the most iconic piece of architecture the world has yet known, and the very reason we are here at all.

From the moment we leave our hotel to walk the half mile to the theater, the Opera House beckons us from across the harbor. All eyes are on its majestic sails, which I'd expected to be a sun-bleached white, smooth like actual sails, but which in fact, in person, possess a reptilian texture, causing the whole thing to look rather like a great lizard. Make that a majestic great lizard, but a lizard nonetheless.

That's what I'd write about.

I might be tempted to mention the wild parrots who ate sugar out of my hand this morning, or the girls who fill the streets on the weekend with impossibly short skirts and ridiculously high heels, or how the other day the northern foyer of the Opera House was occupied by a man named Hari Das who was busy summoning a Hindu deity and allowing himself to become possessed by Him. The remarkable thing is that this man is an ordinary well-digger in southern India nine months of the year, and then is worshipped as a god for the other three months. Not a bad balance, I'd say.

And then, dear TRAVELMONKEYS reader, I might stop right there. Without even mentioning the Sydney Writers' Festival, or how I've been reading "Moby Dick" for the first time and am startled with its loveliness and relevance to my life. I might save that for later or maybe even just save it for myself.

I reserve the right to be incomplete and absent. I reserve the right to be overly detailed and loquacious. I reserve the right to bore you. I especially reserve the right to be imperfect and quickly post. This is not my life's work, these are simply a series of sketches, a loose affiliation of notes, and I thank you for sharing in the journey with me.