Day 1: G20 DRAMA IN MELBOURNE
I had originally intended today to be a day of sightseeing Melbourne, but I thought we could sneak in some waterfalls we didn’t get a chance to visit earlier on in the trip.
Given the unnecessarily long dinner at Grossi Florentino’s last night, we didn’t get much sleep as we got up drive towards Strath Creek Falls at 8:30am. The freeway driving was straight forward, but the rural driving wasn’t so straight forward.
In fact, the unsealed spur road that eventually led to the picnic area by the falls lookout appeared by no means doable by passenger vehicle. I ended up stopping the car just short of the steep hill and walked my way down to the picnic area below. Despite the rough unsealed road being one-way, I wasn’t going to risk any damage by going down it thinking I would never get back up.
The signs weren’t looking good as we had seen nothing but brown on the way here and the trees looked ripe for a bush fire. It was also eerily silent which suggested that the falls probably wasn’t making a sound.
What a wasted trip, I thought.
Well based on this experience, I walked back up to the car to rejoin the awaiting Julie and told her to forget about Wilhelmina, Wombelano, and Masons Falls today. It’s just too dry and we’d be wasting gas, time, and money going for them when this drought was just messing things up.
So back to Melbourne we went and by 12:30pm, we were back in the city. As we left the QV Shopping area (buying groceries and mouthwash), we immediately heard someone talking into the bullhorn with heaps of people listening in some grassy area. The street also looked like it was closed off to traffic due to these apparent protestors.
There were riot police waiting for them and you could totally sense the tension already. Julie and I quickly crossed Swansson St and got back into our room to change into something lighter given the hot weather.
Both of us hadn’t eaten all morning and we were eager to try some ramen for lunch at a restaurant we had noticed on Bourke Street earlier on the trip called Ajisen. But the moment we left the hotel, there were hordes of people parading before us on Swanson Street before turning left onto Bourke Street.
There were people with bull horns and signs denouncing the G20 summit (a gathering of some of the richest and most influential world figures driving world economic policies) and demanding an end to poverty.
We were still hungry and the Singapore restaurant Julie wanted to try out was on the other side of the parade. So both of us waited and wandered as we looked for a way to get across.
As we got onto the opposite side of Bourke St, we could see some gaps starting to open up in the demonstration parade. As the gaps widened, we took this opportunity to breach the demonstration line and get across to the other side. Of course there was this matter of returning to the other side once we were done with our meal, but we’d worry about that later.
Fortunately, when we finished lunch at Ajisen, the demonstration had already proceeded well past the restaurant so things we roughly back to normal.
We spent the remainder of the arvo walking around the park south of the Yarra River. There were war memorials and other big lawns (smelling like manure – probably re-seeding and fertilizing due to drought). There was also apparently a wedding that was taking place in one of the gazeebos there as well.
We then proceeded to check out the South Gate area where there were a bunch of shops, cafes, and even a casino further down the block. Nothing real special here except for some cool hangout spots if you had a group to hang out with. It was kind of reminiscent of some of the happening districts in LA when we might go someplace for a get-together for the weekend.
When the evening rolled around, we returned to the banks of Yarra for some night photography. I came with equipped with a tripod and did my thing to produce some city shots reminiscent of the ones I produced across the Swan River in Perth.
And with that, we had cash-only Vietnamese food for dinner and spent an uneventful night back in our room unwinding from the events of today.
But when we watched the news, we were shocked to see the degree of rioting that went on during the demonstration that we witnessed today. We were glad we weren’t around when things got really bad.
Day 2: A DAY WITH DISTANT RELATIVES AND FAMILY FRIENDS
Julie and I had planned on meeting up with cousin Nicole and family friend Howard on this day. Julie established contact the moment we found cheap internet in the chinatown district of Sydney.
So after meeting Nicole at 11:30am, we met up with Howard, who would drive us around, and we also met up with cousin Max, Nicole’s younger brother.
We began the day having a lunch at some coffee house on the western side of Melbourne. We had pleasant chats about the differences in Australian and American culture and especially how Chinese people from overseas adapt to life in Oz. Through these conversations, we finally understood the reasoning behind the hook turns (where you turn right from the far left lane instead of the right lane) as Howard told us the intention was to keep cars from obstructing the trains running through the middle of the CBD streets. We also learned about each others business ventures as well as the apparent climate change in Oz.
Immediately afterwards, we fulfilled Julie’s desire to check out the Queen Victoria Market, which was basically a swap meet (or flea market) or farmer’s market. We did some wandering around but didn’t buy anything.
From there, we headed out to Mt Dandenong, which provided birds eye views of Melbourne and its skyline. Unfortunately, it was very hot this day and the views were rather hazy (i.e. smoggy). Still, it was a nice spot to chill out and relax over some ice cream.
After that, we headed back towards the Melbourne CBD and towards some market area on the waterfront in St Kilda. This kind of reminded me of some of the boutiques or sidewalk stands along some of the beaches in Los Angeles – such as Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, or even Laguna Beach (to a lesser extent).
As the arvo started to give way to evening, we spent some time walking around the ferry dock where the Spirit of Tasmania takes off for Devonport, Tasmania. There were restaurants here, but we mostly strolled around and opted not to go for the expensive food there.
Eventually, we went with cousin Max’s suggestion for some Northwest Chinese food away from the touristy area of Melbourne (actually a more industrialized and seedier area of town). He really liked this place as he proudly proclaimed that this would be the third time this week he would eat there.
The food was mainly spicy stew-type dishes served family style. They didn’t have water there so we just bought some teas from their refrigerator.
When darkness fell upon Melbourne and the dinner ended, so did the very relaxing tour courtesy of Nicole, Howard, and Max. As Howard drove us back into the CBD and right in front of the Mercure Grand Hotel Melbourne, we said our fond farewells and thanks before going about our separate ways.
It was definitely a change of pace from the way Julie and I had been traveling. Reflecting upon other topics discussed this day, we had a blast just talking with them and getting caught up on how life was for Chinese people in Melbourne (or in Howard’s case, Sydney and Canberra as well).
Of course given the severity of Australia’s drought situation, we inevitably discussed the subject. It was Howard who told us that Melbourne was supposed to have similar climate to that of Auckland, New Zealand. Since his parents had lived in (and recently moved from) Auckland, he would know. But the brown we saw all over the place was certainly not the green Julie and I were familiar with in our 2004 visit to the City of Sails.
But all good things must come to an end, and everyone besides Julie and I had work tomorrow morning (Monday).
It was a nice, quiet end to our first half of the trip. Tomorrow, we would begin the second half of the trip – starting with a brief 3-day out-and-back stop in Adelaide.