Sydney I

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Sydney was where Australia began. It was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770, although he merely took a peek at the harbour and moved on, without actually setting his foot on the land. Then in Jan. 26th 1788, marin Captain Arthur Phillips carried a load of some 700 small-time prisoners and started the first European settlement of Australia. (as far as I can tell, Australian are not proud of their convict ancestry -- the fact is rarely mentioned; but personally I think it's nothing to be ashamed of -- they started a great country with bare hands!). The day is known as Australian national day. After overcoming a thousand obstacles, they and their children built Sydney into the most populous city in Australia, with a metropolitan population of around 4.3 millions (2006). Quite impressively populous considering Australia is a vast and empty continent, with merely 20 millions total head counts. We've got over 1/5 of them crowded in the harbour city. After staying in Sydney for a week, I understood why. In this ever assimulating world, with those "global cities" looking ever more alike, Sydney stands out as one of those rare places you won't get tired of staying.

Sydneysider, as the Sydney residents like to call themselves, always love to show off their harbour to their visiting friends. Not without their reasons, -- this is the prettiest harbour in the world, I think. Around the gorgeous Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge is some 55 square km of deep open water, which covers inlets of creeks and rivers, coves, islands, and miles after miles of superb beaches crowded with the fittest gals and guys I've ever seen. If you opt for a bit of action, there're plenty of water sports: surfing, boating, sailing, kayaking, water-skiing... The excitement never ends.

 

Start with the Sydney Opera House, the center of attention of Sydney or even the entire Australia, the ultimate reminder of "oh yeah, we're in Sydney." It is the single most impossible piece of architecture of the 20th century, so radical and imaginative that it's decades ahead of its time. Its stacking clam-shell design has been aesthetically controversial (I personally like it), but nobody will deny that it's an engineering marvel. Each pedal consists of two symmetric pieces cut from a hemisphere and tilted -- it took engineers 5 years just to figure out the feasibility of such unheard of top-heavy design. The construction period was supposed to be 3 years (1959-63), but it went on and on for another 11 long years; the total cost added up to $102 million (US), overspend about 14 times (the original budget was 7 mil). You can imagine it was because of the technical challenge of such a daring project; on the other hand, the prolonged project have caused quite a bit of the disturbance. Time, expense, design details... all caused tension between the clients, design team, engineers, and contractors. For instance, the original Danish designer, Jorn Utzon, was forced to resigned from the the project in 1965 mostly from the pressure of the clients. The guy must be really hurt, for he never set foot in Australia again and thus has never set eye on his beloved masterpiece ever since. Finally, in 1973, the flaring clam shells was finally opened, announcing a new era for Sydney.

A closer look at the sophisticated curvature. The surface appears white from a distance, but is actually covered with glossy white and cream ceramic tiles. The actual body of the shell is made of slabs of pre-cast concrete.

The interior is the most costly part of the construction. Just the stage (include stage lighting, organs) cost 9 mil. It apparently employed the best materials from the all over the world. Too bad, we weren't allowed to photograph the interior of the hall since a rehearsal was on-going, but the following pix of the hallways are quite impressive already.

 

Often appears together with the opera house in post card photos is the Sydney Harbor Bridge nearby. Another famous icon of Sydney, the bridge holds the world title of "widest long-span bridge" and "tallest steel arch bridge" (134m/429.6ft above water), according to Guinness World Record. Solid, sturdy, dark, boldly span across the horizon -- quite a symbolic icon for Australian eh? The bridge was finished in 1932. The construction help Australian fought through the Great Depression, which earned it a nickname the "iron lung."

One of the popular activities is to climb up the bridge, until you reach 134m above the harbour. Must be great view of the harbour up there, but too bad, no photography allowed -- it's too windy. The wind can strip away any loose accessory on your body -- hats, binoculars, cameras, even eye glasses. No, I didn't go, although I admit I was really tempted. The "no photography" sign just turned me off.

 

Now we get down to the water. If you love water sport, this is heaven. Surfing and sailing are particularly popular.

Love those old-fashion sail boats.

If sailing is too leisure for your taste, try the jet boat. Will surely get you wet from inside out in the splashy ride.

Then if you're exhausted and want to lay back a bit, there're miles and miles of fine beaches. Shown here is Manly Beach. The weather wasn't very cooperative, but it's still nice.

Sydney skyline from the harbour. The tallest golden circular building is the Sydney Tower, also known as the AMP tower.

Some random scene of the harbour. In the last pic is Luna Park, a water-front amusement park where you enter form a gapping mouth on a goofy face.

 

So after all these wandering around, you're hungry. The first place to go, I'd recommend the Fish Market on Blackwattle Bay. Sydney has the largest fish market in the southern hemisphere, and the world's third largest following Tokyo and Madrid. Qing and I consumed four dozen oysters of different sorts and one dozen 1/2 shell scallop in one meal - it was that good. Never had so many raw food in our entire lives; it's truly a miracle that our stomach didn't complain - make me reconsider the theory that human ancestors used to live in the sea. One important tip: pass those buffet style booths and order something truly fresh, or even better, alive.

I personally think the best seafood dishes are Cantonese, closely followed by Japanese, and then Italian. The best Cantonese restaurant in Sydney, and the best Chinese in that matter, is Golden Century in Chinatown. Here you can pick your own live fish or lobster. Within minutes, you have a huge dish of lobster sashimi, followed by a bowl of soup made from the head and shell, and a stir-fry dish with the claws and tail end. This is Chinese-style thrifty: never discard any part because food doesn't come easy. However, shamefully we couldn't keep up such Chinese virtue in this German restaurant Lowenbrau in the Rock (last 2 pix), because their plates are just too... substantial. We're half-full after a hearty smoked salmon appetizer plate and a mug of mellow dark malt, and embarrassed ourselves by leaving out plates half-empty. Not that the food wasn't good, but I really didn't have the space for a full roasted pork knuckle.

Some random scene of the city. The Queen Victoria Building in the center business district was completed in 1898 in Victorian style, as the name suggests. It serves as a classy shopping mall today.

Street artists performing street dance (2 pix); Street scene in a rainy night (3 pix); I personally like those sleek car-based pickup, which you don't see in the US anymore (although rumor has it GM has plan of importing some).

 

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