Australia

Dec 30, 2010

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When the Gold Coast lost its shine

For many Australians and international visitors, Queensland's Gold Coast is a magical place where beautiful men and women do nothing but tan their perfectly sculpted bodies, and children run amok the beaches, happily chasing each other and collaboratively building sparkling sandcastles.

GoldCoastMeterMaidCaroline Zielinski writes: For many Australians and international visitors, Queensland’s Gold Coast is a magical place where beautiful men and women do nothing but tan their perfectly sculpted bodies, and children run amok the beaches, happily chasing each other and collaboratively building sparkling sandcastles.

Of course, let’s not forget the four amazing theme parks, offering their visitors more than their share of entertainment: who wouldn’t want to see live tigers performing tricks, happy dolphins gurgling their amusement and terrified children walking on shaking legs after a heart-attack inducing roller-coaster ride?

And what about the amazing beaches? The sandy dunes? The warm weather? And acres of clubs, bars and shopping malls, created to suit every drinking and shopping whim imaginable?

The first time I visited the Gold Coast at the age of 13, I loved it. Despite the agonising purple sunburn I received on my second day, I couldn’t get enough of Wet’n’Wild, Movie World and Sea World. The tropical weather and the fresh, salty breeze passing through the windows of our rented beach side apartment filled me with wonder and a lust for the Queensland lifestyle: why couldn’t I live in this city of sunshine? Imagine going to school in your shorts all year round! The possibilities were endless. But alas, after 10 days, my journey was over.

Until this year. Continue reading “When the Gold Coast lost its shine”

USA

Dec 24, 2010

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popeBinoy Kampmark writes: The much admired rotunda is filled with anticipation. The audience gathered within San Francisco City Hall awaits the annual Tree of Hope Lighting ceremony. They are in for a treat of contradictions, a pastiche, a pantomime.

Towering transvestites in immaculate dresses with pin-point stilettos; the ‘queer nuns’ of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. It’s an order armed with Christmas glitter set to banish rather than farm guilt; Rev. Nobuaki Hanaoka, a survivor of the atom bomb; a comedian Marga Gomez, and a jazz rendition by Veronica Klaus.

Any ideology, when taken into a marketplace, becomes boutique. Trends are cultivated. We live in a climate of hope, and San Francisco has always been at the forefront of promoting that commodity. Is it curious to have cross-dressing, transvestite delights and a survivor of the atomic bomb mingle and promote a creed? No. This is tragedy and camp, promotion and propaganda. Conservatives might regard this as grotesque, though this is nothing if not comic, a drag show in high stage endorsed by the city’s mayoral office.

The political stance of the audience is obvious. This is a gathering for the converted and GOP members and followers are not to be found. Gomez lashes out with her sharpened tongue, talking about Sapphic Latina fantasies. From lust, the topic turns political.

The tongue turns to lashing with relish the Republican figure Sarah Palin, the keenest and perhaps softest of targets.  “I wish Sarah Palin were adopted by a family of bears.”  A few more comments aimed below the belt of the Alaskan hockey mum, and its time for the sisters to come on stage. Continue reading “Blessed Sisters and cross dressing: Christmas in City Hall”

japanfood1Rebecca Arnold writes: “Chicken heart! Chicken heart! You eating chicken heart!” The two girls next to us giggled and pointed to a picture depicting a person and the various cuts of meat one could have.

My boyfriend and I looked at each other and then back at the meat on the plate suspiciously.

Surely not?

“It looks like beef,” I whispered to him. “I think they’re just having us on.”

I pushed the meat off the skewer with a chopstick.

“You first,” he said.

Gingerly, I put it in my mouth. Yep, tasted just like beef. Tender and delicious. Definitely not chicken heart.

We were in a small Japanese restaurant in Hiroshima, and after a fairly emotional day making our way through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum we were after somewhere to enjoy a tasty meal and see how this city had rebuilt itself into the modern place it is today. Wandering through the small laneways near the river, unsuccessfully trying to decipher Japanese menus, we peered into one restaurant, saw lots of people inside and decided this was the one. Continue reading “Chicken hearts for dinner”

An Expat Opinion

Dec 20, 2010

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jaymartinThe first song on the CD my husband puts on happens to be Paul Kelly’s Leaps and Bounds. “I’m high on the bridge, looking over the hill, to the MCG…”, he sings the opening line. And I’m surprised to find tears pricking my eyes.

As I write this it’s 13 outside my apartment in Warsaw, Poland. Minus, that is. It hit 25 last night. Minus. When I tell people here that the top temperature in Canberra in winter is about 7 or 8, they always ask, “is that minus?” I used to think that was odd. Until I moved here.

I remember joking with my flatmates about the “balmy Canberra weather” on the exceptional winter morning it would hit minus 2 or 3. Except that does seem rather warm now. OK, maybe not exactly balmy. But, after all I’m Australian. One of the many things I’ve learned after two years in Poland is that we’re a comparatively optimistic bunch.

It’s fair to say I never expected to end up in Poland. So much so that when my husband told me his job was moving him there (and by extension me), I replied, “Great! Umm… where’s that?” “Glad you asked,” he replied, pulling out the map he’d printed off for exactly that reason, and we spent the next few hours poring over all the amazing places we could go, talking about the things we’d see, and wondering what the next few years would hold.

I’ve been here in Central Europe for two years now and all I can say is that, if I’d had all the time in the world, I never could have imagined some of the things I’ve gotten up to. (Note: Poland is in Central, NOT Eastern Europe. It’s one of the first cultural gaffes I made. There have been many since. Luckily Europeans don’t expect much from us in the way of culture. I more than live up to these expectations).

I never imagined I’d end up in the Ukraine with a friend on a dodgy visa run (hers, not mine), in the process discovering there’s a country where you can feel completely overdressed in a bikini.

Or that I’d spend the summer solstice in Lithuania jumping over bonfires and singing the sun farewell on the shortest night of the year.

Or be asked to give a lecture on representations of Indigenous Australia in contemporary Australian film, followed by judging an ANZAC Biscuit competition. (Since I’m Australian, I’m obviously an expert on everything regarding the country).

Or a road trip to see the opening of the World’s Biggest Jesus (which, as of November, is in Świebodzin).

Or the completely humbling experience of finding myself among the VIP guests at a dinner for Holocaust survivors.

Mind you, not everything I have now discovered is in the ‘expat spouse’ job description (which, incidentally, I’m still waiting for my copy of) has been quite so great. Like my first official function, which involved showing our community spirit by picking up rubbish along the river. In the driving rain. Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: The opening line”

idiaminI’m pretty sure it was just a straight scam. But when there is a violent sectarian militant group involved, it is hard to be sure.

To begin with, I should have been tipped off by the fact that he knew people in Wangaratta. Not that there is anything wrong with Wangaratta as such, but making reference to a small town in your home country is a classic tactic for any con being played on foreigners. ‘Wang’ was a good choice. I once bought a very nice hat from an op-shop there — so he had me from the get go.

I was walking through the middle of Nairobi, on my way from somewhere to somewhere else, when Morris attached himself to me. As a Mzungu — or white guy — this isn’t uncommon. Sometimes people are after money, sometimes they just want to have a yarn, maybe practice their English. Morris struck me as the latter. He seemed like a nice guy. And besides, he knew people in Wangaratta.

After a couple of minutes conversation, weaving our way through honking mutatus, I learnt that Morris wasn’t from Kenya at all. Actually he was Ugandan. Morris was from the northern part of Uganda, near where Idi Amin was born. This is part of the world where civil war has raged for the last twenty years, largely carried out by child soldiers. The instigators are the LRA — the Lord’s Resistance Army — an apocalyptic Christian sect regarded as the most brutal group in Central Africa. So when Morris told me he was on the run, he had my attention.

Morris was a history teacher — a good one by the way he knew his stuff. Just a few weeks earlier his school had been torched and six teachers had died. Morris had escaped with nothing and fled to Kenya. He was a bit vague about who the perpetrators were but given the LRA have a track record for this sort of thing I made my own conclusions. Morris offered to tell me more about it over a coffee. I bought him a coffee.

So we sat at a café and I quizzed him about the destruction of his school. This is when things stopped checking out quite so well. Morris was very firm on some things but very rubbery and evasive on others. I guess it was a pretty traumatic experience. Also, for someone who had just had his life destroyed by fundamentalist Christians he tended to talk a lot about troublesome Muslims and the dilemmas of tribalism. He offered to put the full story in an email and send it to me. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: Scammed by terrorists?”

France

Dec 15, 2010

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Nicola Heath writes: We arrived in St Jean de Luz at the same time as a blustery squall. It was the afternoon and all we could do was find a place to stay and literally batten down the hatches. The following morning the storm persisted and the furthest we ventured was to one of the cafes that line the Place Louis XIV. The town was deserted, and leaves and branches whipped across the square.

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St Jean de Luz is a port town in the Pays Basque in the far south of France. The town sits at the mouth of the river Nivelle, and has a long seafaring history. According to Mark Kurlansky’s superlative The Basque History of the World (which I read on a previous trip to the Basque region in Spain) the Basques became the first commercial whalers in the 7th and 8th centuries. By the 14th century they had ventured far beyond the Bay of Biscay hunting whales and schools of cod, which salted fuelled Basque voyages to fishing grounds as distant as Iceland, Norway and eventually Newfoundland in North America. Faces to the gale as we struggled past the harbour, I could readily imagine what a dangerous enterprise whaling would have been for the medieval Basque adventurers. Continue reading “The light of St Jean de Luz”

cocos

Crikey intern Alison Drew-Forster writes: The December Australian Traveller issue has been released and features the “The hottest destinations for 2011” as well as the top 10 “Warming Up” destinations for the coming year.

Predicably many of the winning destinations are in Queensland, with the Sunshine State scoring one of the top 10 destinations, and three in the ‘warming up’ category (next big thing).

Even the Gold Coast scores as number one on the “warming up” list. Apparently it’s now retro rather than tired. Or as Australian Traveller says: “The old tart is getting its mojo back.”
But what if you’re the parents of tweens, who have already travelled to many of the winning locations. What if you want to holiday somewhere a little different?

As our daughter is to start her final year of primary school, we have decided to embark on the great family adventure in 2011. We’ve been saving up the annual leave in anticipation, if not yet the necessary funds (damn those rising fuel bills).

Our criteria are loosely based around wanting to take the children out of the ‘privileged bubble’ of life in middle class Australia, to take them somewhere children don’t have the same sense of entitlement as our Aussie Gen Z’s.

At the same time, some fun in the sun is a prerequisite for this family whose history includes lugging all our belongings across the Nullarbor in an old Holden wagon, in search of a life in a warmer climate.

So I’ve come up with a plan.  Destination: Indian Ocean. Stops at Cocos Islands and Indonesia.  Possibly Bali tacked on at the end.

You might not have heard of the Cocos Islands, and even if you have, you probably have no idea where they are. If you have heard of them, it might be to notice they are the other islands, besides Christmas Island, where asylum seekers are processed offshore. Continue reading “A family holiday outside the box”

Cambodia

Dec 10, 2010

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At one stage I counted ten young street children injecting heroin in the alley around me. Monks slowly walked by on their morning alms. For a Westerner it was an unexpected juxtaposition.

We had arrived on motos some time earlier carrying small sporting bags packed with clean syringes, sterilised water, medical supplies, condoms, empty oil bottles, BBQ tongs and food packages soaked in sugar. One by one, children appeared from flimsy doorways and alley corners. Some brought cane baskets filled with used syringes. Others arrived empty handed, took medical kits, food and began injecting not even a metre away.

Some of the young children spoke with the outreach teams about their problems or asked for specific medical treatment. Others wanted to just share a joke and converse with somebody outside of their world. The children, always polite and courteous, seemed fully aware the outreach team was there to help. Several children took rubber gloves, empty oil containers, BBQ tongs and begin clearing used syringes.

That afternoon I was exposed to many confronting images but none more horrific than the sight of a young male who had two seriously infected wounds on his left calf. Each wound was roughly sixty millimetres in diameter and five deep. The areas surrounding the wound were black and when the outreach doctor squirted a clear solution it sent each wound bubbling in a pool of white foam. The doc applied mercurochrome and bandaged the wounds. The patient did not flinch. I asked the doc if the patient should be in hospital to which he replied in broken English “He not want to go. We do best we can and come back next week to apply more treatment.”

As bleak and hopeless as the situation seemed, it wasn’t. Continue reading “The slums of Phnom Penh: working with child drug users”

Melbourne

Dec 8, 2010

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nice carsCrikey reader KR writes: Wandering along the wide, green leafy streets, everything seems in place. Towering white terraces framed by exquisitely manicured hedges; a cat, warming his belly on the bonnet of his owners BMW in the driveway. This is the South Yarra you’ll remember. Proud, established, refined.

Dodging an excited golden retriever along the way, I meander down towards the main drag.

Toorak Road realty has long been exclusive to designer baby shops, chic cafes and an unusually high number of hair salons; bar a florist or two, that’s basically the retail breakdown, which was just how the residents liked it. Perfectly tailored for the demographic.

But something is different. France Soir is still up the top to the right, as it has been for the last 22 years. But the teetering pavement tables of Jean-Paul Prunetti’s French brasserie aren’t packed as they so used to be on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Past the world’s most expensive dry cleaner (that has been known to charge $74 to remove the night before’s misguided kebab from a dress) and I stumble across the newest Toorak Road resident: The vacant shop window. Continue reading “From manicured hedges to Asian massage parlours”

Uncategorized

Dec 6, 2010

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Dr Terry Cutler writes: For the serious traveller the only time to go to the island of Mallorca off the Spanish Mediterranean coast is in the off season when all the tourists and temporary residents have disappeared.

The scale of the annual summer migration to Mallorca is reflected in the size of its airport. Approaching the city of Palma from the airport one of the first sights is the huge cathedral building sitting proud on the ridge over the port. Even from a distance it is clear that its rose windows are enormous, and the warm stone glows in the sunlight. The building stretches 121 metres in length, and is unusually wide, with the nave and aisles measuring 55 metres across. Which seems appropriate, since Catalan Gothic is notable for the scale and openness of its interior spaces.

mallorca4Unlike other Catalan Gothic structures, Palma’s La Seu cathedral may be pleasing to the eye but it is not exactly an engineering triumph. Continue reading “Following Gaudi to Mallorca: an architectural guide”

USA

Dec 3, 2010

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greenmillBinoy Kampmark writes: The Green Mill cocktail lounge is bouncing, alive with a current so intense it electrifies. The seating seems to be moving, winged and taking flight from its hinges. The ambience is trilling like summer larks with a naughty chord.  There is a shrine resembling the most holy Buddhist tributes to the ancestral dead, floral decking, finest cloth. It is for Al Capone, one of America’s more ruthless killers but, more to the point, bootleggers who operated with abandon in the 1920s.  The jazz club is protected by a statute of the Goddess of Harvest, Ceres, a superb accompaniment to the art nouveau interior. This is Chicago’s North Broadway, duller than the past, but still able to tantalize its visitors.

Every city worth its historical freight is marked by a notable feat. Sumerian Ur gave us bureaucracy and book keeping; Alexandria, one of history’s most known libraries; Paris, revolution and love; London, the first metropolis, dour and interesting in equal measures; New York, dizzy high rise and a skyline challenging heaven.  Chicago? In some ways more innovative with its skyscrapers than New York, but by far, its legacy lies in the pleasure industry, the self-appointed task in undermining Prohibition.

This city’s name in history was assured during an era where temperance movements had grasped the holy writ of life, scolding and lecturing irresponsible America into submission.  “Thou shalt not drink and make merry.” Some preferred to use the term ‘The Noble Experiment.’ This was 1920. The human body had to be preserved from the impurities of the bottle. Families could not be allowed to destroy themselves with the devil’s libation. The US voted with its feat and adjusted the constitution in the form of the eighteenth amendment. The people had spoken.

Prohibiting drink, so it turned out, was as foolish as prohibiting sex on premises. Simmering blood finds ways past the puritanical authorities to warm beds, cars and back alleys; drink finds its way past cold sober guards to sheds, underground bars, in short, speakeasies. It made Al Capone, and the Kennedy family, rich. While Chicago in the boring twenty first century has done little to preserve those fabulously illicit places, it has at least preserved the Green Mill, this jewel of delicious indecency. Continue reading “Getting down and dirty martinis in Chicago’s speakeasies”

osh3Robin O’Brien writes: It was pitch dark and minus 10 when we left Murghab, Tajikistan for Osh, Kyrgyzstan. It dropped to minus 16 within a few minutes of leaving town. The car’s heating was broken so we had to keep the air con on high to stop the windscreen freezing up. It was a right hand drive car converted to a left. The process had broken the air vent controls, so it was freezing air on the windscreen, face and feet until the sun got hot enough, which took four hours.

Crossing the border was easy on the Tajik side. Bored 18-year-old conscripts threw sticks for their alsatian while someone woke the bloke who could speak Angliski up to ask: “Did you buy drugs in Tajikistan?” and glance in my bag briefly enough to demonstrate how easily the Afghans must be moving their opium up the road.

The Kyrgyz border boss wanted money. Not from me — I might call an embassy or something, but our Tajik driver’s passport had expired a week earlier and it was going to cost him. Tourists are good collateral for blackmailing drivers: as in, “You pay up or I pour all your passengers’ stuff out on the ground.” This time it was, “You pay up or I’ll have you arrested for travelling on false documents and your passengers will be stranded on the border.”

He was threatening in Russian, the international language in Central Asia, and the greatest language of all for intimidation.  I pretended I couldn’t understand a word — no point making life easier for him.

It cost 2000 Kyrgyz Som — about $45 — to get us through.  And the subordinate soldiers walking around smoking cigs and swinging Kalashnikovs gave the driver the filament for their water heater and told him he’d better get it repaired or replaced and bring it back if he wanted to return to Tajikistan the next day.

Within 100kms of the border the traffic cops started spotting the Tajik number plates and pulling us over for ‘discussions’. “Looks like there could be a problem with your car….” It cost around 5 Tajik Somoni –$1.20 — each time they stopped us.

Eventually the driver had had enough. He wasn’t willing to drive into central Osh, it’d cost too much in bribes and the threats were destroying his nerves.

We parked and the driver and his brother asked around for a cab. In most of Central Asia any private car will double as a cab for the right price. Five of us jammed into a two-door hatch with a happy local punter driving.

I was in the front so I started pulling a seatbelt on, but the driver stopped me.

“There is no need.”  He showed me his police ID and pointed to the uniform hat on the dashboard.  “You are with me now.”  A gold-toothed grin. Continue reading “Laughing about murder: an awkward Kyrgyzstan taxi”

Bruce Poon Tip star_rsAs promised, Bruce Poon Tip — interviewed here — has returned for a Back in a Bit guest post on Tourism Australia and eco-tourism.

Founder of Gap Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip, writes: Being invited to speak recently at the Global Eco Conference in Noosa had the added attraction of letting me visit a part of the world I’d never been to before.

With a focus on indigenous tourism they certainly put me to work with three keynotes, two panels and a lunch meeting with Tourism Noosa. The people at Ecotourism Australia, who ran the event, are bound together by their passion for what they do and the fact they are outliers from the mainstream tourism which is very dominant in Australia.  There were many things that surprised me about this conference but none more that the fact that Ecotourism Australia is not supported by Tourism Australia.

While I think the new “There’s nothing like… Australia” campaign by Tourism Australia is beautifully shot, it certainly doesn’t appeal to an international audience. It’s very patriotic and would be a stellar campaign to stimulate domestic travel, but the underlying questions on my trip centred on the support for indigenous tourism. This is a big interest for international tourists and Ecotourism Australia. It never entered my mind that Tourism Australia would not be supporting such a prestigious event or issue.

Ecotourism Australia has been a pioneer and early adopter in the ecotourism industry, but without the support of the major tourism arm in Australia, its impact will be limited.  I am in disbelief that it does not get funding to increase the awareness around the cause and establish a leadership position because it has everyone’s ear.

I spoke with many of the other speakers, who range from the UN to some of the most influential private sector companies before confirming my attendance, in order to compare notes about the issues and see if we can have a positive impact in the area. This eco-travel community has been built over 18 years, though there were no senior people in attendance from Tourism Australia and that is simply too bad. Tourism Australia is being left behind while globally sustainability has become a mainstream issue and is at the forefront of everyone else’s agenda. Continue reading “Bruce Poon Tip: Tourism Australia, meet Ecotourism Australia”