Tag Archive | theatre

Australia Part 2-Beautiful Brizzy

I continue with our drive up from Sydney to Cairns, which mostly consisted of stunning beaches one after another, and I apologize that I didn’t note down the names of all the beaches. We tried stopping off at a couple of points where locals assured us we would see whales, one of these was Woolgoola Headland, and you could just about see them with binoculars. But this just whetted our appetite – see Whale- watching later on.The one place that we spent a couple of days in and enjoyed immensely was Yamba at the mouth of the Clarence River Estuary. We stayed in the cute Yamba Beach Motel, which had everything that one needs for a comfortable stay and was reasonably priced by Australian standards. We then just wandered around the tiny town (lots of huge hills leading to the lighthouse) and took a book to read on the various beaches( one was called Pippi beach). Highly recommended. WE also had a very nice pint at the Pacific hotel, which has a splendid bar  overlooking the sea, and touts itself as “Australia’s best sited hotel”. Could not argue with them.

One final place I would like to mention that we enjoyed on the Central coast before we reached Brisbane was Dorrigo National Park. 

This lovely place is a short drive from Coffs Harbour and we spent a few happy hours strolling through the forest paths which are clearly signposted and not overly taxing. There is a short boardwalk at the beginning of the park and then a  few circular paths of varying  lengths, with waterfalls and so on. There is also a visitor centre where you can watch a short movie on the flora and fauna in the park. Our only problem was discovering that our car battery was flat when we returned from the walk (and of course it was a Sunday, our phone had no reception, which is common in isolated areas of Australia, and there was no internet reception either.) Fortunately a lovely couple in the car park came to our aid with jump leads and got us started up again.

It is really hard to get a sense of the rainforest from the photos, because the trees tower above and all around, so the photos really don’t capture the vastness of the experience.

On the way back to Coffs Harbour, the motel owner had suggested we stop at a quaint little town called Bellingen which we were passing through anyway. He specifically used the word “quaint”, adding that since I am from the UK I will understand. The town,set in farm land, with lots of horses and cows dotted around, was indeed quaint, with many interesting old buildings, and a museum, which sadly we did not manage to check out.


From Yamba we continued up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane. We had expectations of Melbourne and of Sydney, but Brisbane was a city about which we had heard very little. And we were blown away by it. Since we saw that we had plenty of days of our trip to make it up to Cairns, and had decided not to continue driving but to get there by plane, we decided to extend our stay in Brisbane and chill out a bit there, as moving every one or two days gets tiresome. As soon as we walked around in central Brisbane we felt at home. It’s hard to say exactly why. Our air bnb was in a wonderful quiet neighbourhood called Hawthorne, and came with a kitchen, garden, a swimming pool and a dog called Oscar. It was also 5 minutes walk from the Hawthorne Citycat Stop. Citycat is a ferryboat service that plies up and down the Brisbane river and is a far more useful form of transport than the bus.It runs frequently, and up until after midnight 7 days a week. All you need to use it is an electronic  Go Card that you top up with money as you go. It is the same card for buses, trains, ferries and trams. You can just get on it and go all the way up one end of the line and then back again for about $6.

We immediately bought our Go card and started exploring. The first part of the city that we discovered was the central area of the Queen Street Mall which we returned to many times during our stay. It was both relaxed and buzzing, full of life and great for people-watching but not in the way that large cities are. It was always fun to sit on a bench and watch people, and we also took a tour later on with a Brisbane Greeter, (volunteer guide) who introduced us to some less well-known corners of the city.

There are lots of things to see in Brisbane- we particularly enjoyed the Southbank area and the Parklands- a long riverbank promenade that was built after the World Expo of 1988 and consists of a cultural precinct (Museums, art galleries, concert halls, theatres) a Nepali Peace Pagoda, grassy areas and free public swimming pools. There is also an Epicurious garden, where fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown by volunteers, and distributed free to people. The Southbank was the location from which we watched the fantastic Riverfire firework display at the end of the Riverfire festival which happily coincided with our stay in Brisbane. This display was preceded by air displays by army helicopters and jets. It was a great day, no less impressive in that the crowds dispersed in a quiet and orderly fashion at the end. The festival also included lots of free performances all over the place, which added to our stay. We also enjoyed walking around Roma Street Parklands, another park area near to the second place we stayed Spring Hill Apartments. We wanted to add more days at the Airbnb but it was no longer available, so we took the apartment for a week, which was a bit pricy but also included a washing machine and dryer! The only drawback to this accommodation was that it was indeed at the top of a hill. But there was a free bus that stopped right outside the apartments, and deposited us in the city centre in less than 15 minutes. So as the Ozzies say “No worries”.

Other places we loved in Brisbane were the Botanical Gardens and the old Regent Theatre which is now a tourist office, but part of the interior of the old theatre has been preserved. Just travelling on the ferries up and down the river and looking at the iconic Story Bridge from different angles was great fun. WE were continually amazed that every time we went down town something was going on- one day they were distributing free ice cream in Queen Street; another day there was a farmers’ market next to Victoria Bridge; there were lots of free performances in the Mall area too- one day we saw a display of Aboriginal dancing there. Our stay was also enhanced by meeting up with our friend Steve from Virtual Tourist, and then Gary and Roger from Servas, all of whom came out for dinner with us. WE also made new friends in Vera and Paul, a lovely couple we met on a Saturday morning when we went to the Farmers’ Market at the PowerHouse  and who also met us for dinner another evening. All of these meetings impressed on me that nice as sightseeing may be, the really memorable parts of our travels are always the personal contacts we make with locals. The openness and warmth we received from all the Australians that we met was just phenomenal. So thanks Ozzies!

Then there was one of the highlights of our whole trip- whale watching at Redcliffe. After a lot of humming and ha-ing we decided to go for it. It’s after all one of those “once in a lifetime” things right? It’s expensive but definitely something to remember. I checked out various companies and found that the most highly recommended one was called, strangely enough, Brisbane Whale Watching , and it had tons of recommendations on Tripadvisor. They guaranteed that we would see whales. But I was not prepared for how many! We bought a package which included a pickup from a location near where we were staying, transfer by minibus to the cruise jetty, the hour or so  trip out to the bay near Moreton Island and a buffet lunch. We even had a brief look at Beegees Alley before boarding our boat.

Very soon after reaching the bay we immediately started seeing humpback whales and some even jumped up right near the boat.It was truly amazing, and it was important to stop taking pictures (most of which missed the whales jumping) and just look at these lovely creatures. I still did manage to get a few good shots though! Each time there was a sighting, the crew shouted 11 o’clock, or 3 o’clock, and everyone rushed to the appropriate location of the ship to see the whales. There was even a mum and baby but I didn’t manage to get a picture.

Finally it was time to leave wonderful Brisbane- so I will just leave you with a few more pictures before we head for our last stop in the trip- tropical Cairns, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Third year in China- some cultural observations

Now we are back at the University after the National Week Holiday I find myself back in the classroom and mulling over some cultural observations on our life here.We are beginning our third year here much to my surprise.When we set off on this little jaunt we had absolutely no thought that we would still be here two years on.Anyway here we are and some things struck me this morning as I waited for the school bus.Firstly some things which of course made us marvel when we first arrived here now seem natural and don’t strike me as strange any more- office and factory workers with name tags and uniform trooping into work in the morning and out again at lunch time,people sleeping on their desks or in the shopping mall or just about anywhere at noon.Entire families on motor bikes whizzing along with no crash-helmets and against the traffic.Pot holes in the middle of the road with no protective fence or warning around them.These are things we see every day and hardly notice now.Buses crammed to the gills with people is another everyday inconvenience but of course only to be expected in a country of 1.4 billion.And of course countless other things we were surprised at on arrival now seem commonplace.But maybe the thing that I find odd is that despite our everyday life becoming just that-everyday,there are countless other things that we find mind-bogglingly weird and even after living here for a while I find that other foreigners,even the ones who speak decent Chinese,still feel the culture to be totally alien in so many ways.I mean even if I could read and write and converse,I have come to the conclusion that I could never ever feel at home here.I love my life in China dearly,but whatever you do and however much you might learn about China you are never going to fit in culturally it seems.These are the things I would like to grasp,and try to explain here. I am not sure I will succeed.

Firstly the attitude to older people (specifically teachers) which so charmed me at the beginning,is beginning to trouble me.Much as I enjoy basking in the students’ adoration and feeling honoured and respected,there is a problem with it.And specifically at University level.I mean,it’s great for a bunch of kindergarteners or even Middle School kids to look up to their teacher and venerate him,I am thinking that maybe College kids should be doing a bit of questioning.And this Chinese kids just don’t do.According to the Confucian method they must venerate their elders without question and must strive to emulate.Now Chinese students are brilliant at emulating,copying,reciting and regurgitating.This of course is NOT what we are used to in the West.

Last week we judged a Speech Competition and an Poetry recital competition.The former had students declaim some horrid texts most probably written by their teachers,which in many cases they couldn’t understand at all.THere was absolutely NO personal element in their talks at all and no real emotion,just a kind of overdramatic presentation at best.The following day the Poetry thing was totally weird.The first part consisted of students reciting some poetry (some original and some not) over a background of sort of “feel good” New Age style music and then in the next part,in pairs,they dubbed the soundtrack of some Disney cartoon scenes.I mean they just learnt the speeches off by heart and tried to deliver them as close to the original as possible.What for! I cried internally? I mean okay good practice for pronunciation etc but how in heaven am I supposed to give a grade for language,and content? They didn’t write any of it themselves! These things continually mystify me.


Then on Saturday we were invited by our neighbour to attend a performance of the Beijing Opera at her University,Huaqiao,which is just up the road from here.She is a musicologist and piano teacher there.She brought tickets round to our house and offered to take us in her car,together with her mum and her small daughter.Of course we were thrilled to go with her.And although the Opera was being given also at our College we thought it would be more fun to go with our neighbour,which proved true because she tried to explain what was going on throughout the performance (with the aid of my phone dictionary) It proved very difficult to follow however,not just because of the language,but because culturally we had no clue about the different kinds of characters,the movements or plots involved.They only presented two scenes which I think were not that difficult,but we felt we were just watching something totally alien about which we had no clue.The characters were kind of stylized ones like in Comedia Del’ Arte,but I felt that each hand movement had significance,and each head tilt was important.The two scenes were followed by some singers and this was where we really felt lost.The style of singing was just totally weird for us,and to be honest it sounded like cats screeching,both the men and the women.Our friend said that even for her it is difficult but of course she has some cultural background and can appreciate it.We felt flummoxed.




So this is pretty much where we stand here today. We can manage here on a day to day basis.We can order food and buy train tickets,and say who we are and where we are from.We can ask the price of things. But have a real conversation with someone? Nope.So as people keep asking me “Can you speak Chinese now?”  the answer would have to be “Not really”,and it is really much much more difficult than I could ever have imagined.Maybe for younger people it’s easier.But as we all know just because you can speak the words doesn’t mean you really understand the culture of the place.That just seems to be getting more and more impenetrable.