Postcard from the Edge of a Harbour

Clearing up the stage following my last presentation, I was approached by a charming lady who introduced herself as Kim and said how much she enjoyed it. I thanked her profusely, but then deviating from the usual script she asked “would you like to come and present that in Australia for us?” I was somewhat taken aback, “Come again?” I replied. “Australia” she confirmed, and I happily tippy-toed tout-suite to the travel agency.

The agency informed me that the “best” flights (i.e. cheapest) available were with Thai Airways “Silk Class”, with a six hour stopover in Bangkok. This is a totally unreasonable amount of time, not enough to leave the airport and go snuffling about, but long enough to make it a mind-numbing experience. However, there was a later flight which gave me twelve hours – midday to midnight, just enough time re-sample the delights of this vibrant city.

The flight arrived punctually at the brand spanking new Suvarnabhumi Airport. This airport has been the center of controversy since its opening in September 2006, as some serious corners were cut whilst building, which has resulted in some rather interesting, and unintentional, architectural features. It is unusual to have a landscaped runway, rather than the traditional (and some would say boring) flat variety, but thanks to the subsidence landing is an adventure. The only design flaws I found in this gargantuan construction was the lack of personnel in the poorly laid out immigration area, architects being unable to distinguish between “push” and “pull” on many doors and the way the rain dripped down from the roof.

But I didn’t see much more as I raced out the door, dropped my bags at the left luggage and caught the bus in to town (the planned railway link is not quite ready yet). My first stop was the back-packers haven Khao San Road, one stop shop for anything not-quite-kosher. After purchasing a few “items” it was then off for a boat-taxi ride down the mighty (and a little bit smelly) Chao Phraya River and off to Pantip Plaza, one stop shop for high tech bits and pieces.

After purchasing a few “items” there, I enjoyed some local delicious fare, straight from a wheelbarrow at a reasonable 20 Baht (€1.20). I then tried to make it back to the airport with airport bus, but Friday night is not the ideal time leave Bangkok, the traffic was horrendous, so I made a detour on the metro and caught a taxi on the outskirts of the city.

This got me to the airport with earlier than expected, but rather than amusing myself watching the antics outside a glass door where push and pull had been wrongly labeled, I toddled off to the Silk Lounge for a shower and a complimentary massage, which relaxed me nicely ready for the 9 hour flight to Sydney. Boarding the plane, there were some unusual announcements – things like “we reserve the right not to serve alcohol to intoxicated passengers” are not typical in Europe.

Arriving in Sydney, we were forced to sit in place whilst an “immigration official” came on board to assess the contamination danger posed by a puking passenger. The problem was declared “non-communicable” (alcohol poising) and we were let off (figuratively and literally). Australia is paranoid about bringing in contaminates, especially after the experiences importing cats, which have killed off most of the indigenous smaller marsupials and cane toads, which are progressing across the country and are now being gobbled up by crocodiles, who expire of cane toad poisoning shortly thereafter.

 

I am surprised at this caution, as Australia is already FULL of the most weird and deadly animals on the planet; spiders, snakes, not to mention what is in the water. I am forever missing a heartbeat when turning a tap in case a box-jellyfish slides out or at the prospect of doing the “under the hotel bed check” in case I find something as big as a dinner plate with 842 eyes and 37 legs is staring back at me.

Still, I am not adverse to danger and so took my limo (checking first under the seat for funnel-web spiders) to one of the nicest cities on the planet. After a quick shower and shave, and more importantly a change of underwear (it had been 32 hours), I went for a little wonder. It was kind of bizarre walking in bright sunlight (almost) as hot as a Heidelberg summer, to be greeted by signs proclaiming the “Mega Winter Sale”. Other slightly-out-of-the-ordinary experiences included watching the rats come out and play in the Sydney streets or avoiding begging seagulls outside McDonalds. I moved away rapidly in case the gulls were some sort of mutant variation what would extend their stingers, stun me and drag me off to a nest of death.

I wondered up to Circular Quay and gawped at the Harbour bridge and, of course, stood in awe of the gorgeous Opera house. The whole area is bustling and I was surprised at the considerable number of older people still alive and walking around. The sun was just setting as I arrived, which made everything glow beautifully and made me temporarily forget the lurking dangers around every corner. I also took a tour of the Opera (with a reduced rate, thanks to my new student ID card – one of the “items” from Khao San Road) and got all the history. During the tour, one quote from Frank Gehry stood out; “it is a building that changed the entire image of a country”. I agree, and certainly don’t subscribe to the “it looks like a load of mussel shells crammed in to a typewriter” school of thought.

Apropos mussels, this being one of favourite dishes, I gorged myself on them in Sydney. Good food is prevalent in Sydney, and the views from the waterside restaurants is just as spectacular.

Back at the hotel, I had a message waiting – on of my colleagues had cancelled his trip and I was asked to take his place presentíng. This meant quite a bit of extra work, but a little thing like that is not going to curtail my sight-seeing. I picked up my PC and trotted off to the Chinese Garden of Friendship to work – it is one of the most beautifully settings I have ever seen. It is an oasis in an oasis and despite them not offering student discounts, a place I visited several times, just to sit and bask in the warmth of the city.

The rest of the week went well, 5 presentations, numerous meetings, all ended very satisfactorily. For one presentation I was rewarded with an original, beautifully carved, aboriginal boomerang, for another a nice hat. Sydneyonians are delightful people and I met many old and new faces, who were a delight to work and play with. Special thanks to Karen for all the organization and chaperoning.

With the week drawing to a close, it is was back to Bangkok, a quick massage, watch the push/pull fiasco and then on to Frankfurt, this time only 27 hours in total, but then the jet-lag kicks in. It is a challenge to sleep, perchance to dream of a delightful city and its wonderful, warm people set on a blue, blue harbour.
Sweet dreams indeed.

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