Centenary World Cruise Day 68-69: Sydney

Day 68:

Today was our first of two in Sydney. We had an objective: we needed to buy a couple more suitcases, as we’ve bought so many souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home that there’s no way they’re fitting into the luggage we brought.

Ship’s tender taking folks to Circular Quay

Luckily, the couple who’d had the table next to ours at dinner for the last leg of the trip was from Australia, and gave us some great guidance about where to find reasonably priced luggage, and how to get there. It turns out, Sydney public transportation is really easy to use, and there’s a big station at the quayside.

Me on public transit! In another country!!

The downtown shopping district is interesting – there’s not really any traffic on the main street with all the shops, because it’s taken up by the light rail line. Cars can drive on it, but they mainly go from hotel driveways to the nearest cross street. There are also quite a few pedestrian arcades, so walking around was easy and enjoyable.

Sure enough, we found the department store with reasonably priced luggage, and to make it even better, they were having a one-day-only 40% off sale. SCORE! Although it meant that for the rest of the afternoon, we had to roll two huge suitcases all over town with us. Luckily, there were lots of people who had taken advantage of the sale and were doing the same.

That evening, we had tickets to the opera. The Sydney Opera House is right on the waterfront, so the only traveling we had to do was from the ship at anchor in the harbor on a tender to the quayside. It was kind of nice traveling with a little boat full of people all dressed up for the opera.

Everyone has seen pictures of the outside of the Sydney Opera House, but very few people have seen pictures of the inside. The two surprising things: it’s smaller than you’d think, and it’s done in that kind of “we can make concrete look decorative” style popular in the 1970s. But the opera itself was excellent, and we had a really wonderful evening.

Day 69:

Our second day in Sydney. We went into town again, this time all the way to Town Hall, right next to Saint Andrews Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic Revival church. The bells were ringing for the service as we got off the train, and it was lovely to just stand there on a lovely morning in early autumn, listening to them.

Yesterday, we had the first decent Mexican food we’d had in 2 ½ months. There’s no way you’re getting decent Mexican food on a ship that offers “avocado chutney,” and hates any kind of condiment that might accidentally add flavor. The place in Sydney was a chain called “Mad Mex,” and in addition to decent food, they offered a fun mix of covers of popular music from the 1980s and 1990s – a dubstep version of the Men at Work song “Down Under,” a fun cover of the Eiffel 65 song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” – stuff like that. So of course, not knowing the next time we’d see Mexican food, we had to have it for lunch again.

Later, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Australia is great about acknowledging the indigenous people’s claims to the land, and celebrating their culture. Then again, there are an awful lot of white people making an awful lot of money on it, mostly by being the ones doing the selling of indigenous art. The MOCA is mostly indigenous art, and it was great fun.

The MOCA is just across from the ship – how convenient!

We came back to the ship just as it started to sprinkle, and decided to have dinner on the balcony of our room. We sat there, eating our dinner and waving at people going by on ferries, who waved back. Just as the sun was going down, flying foxes (a large species of bat) flew past the ship. I’ve only ever seen pictures of them, so was delighted to see them in person. They’re HUGE! (Okay, huge for bats.) There they went, off to hunt some elusive wild fruit.

Centenary World Cruise Day 42-43: Singapore

We started out at Gardens By the Bay, an enormous botanical garden close to the marina. While the gardens take up several acres of ground, we stuck to the flower dome and the cloud forest dome.

In the flower dome, there are several dry-weather biomes re-created. To celebrate Chinese New Year, they had a display of dahlias that I could have sat and stared at all day.

The exhibits are arranged by biome, including South Africa, succulents, Mediterranean, olive grove, and California.

In the California area, there were lots of citrus trees, and what could have been our own garden – rosemary and lavender and blackberries. I was charmed and enchanted until we got to an area with a little thyme plant. Thyme is one of my favorite cooking herbs, and we had (have?) two large plants from which we took what we needed to spice up our cooking. One whiff and I was in tears, homesickness hitting me square between the eyes.

The cloud forest dome was beautiful, but they have turned a lot of it into an Avatar exhibit, with fiberglass Pandora animals and plants in among the real ones. While I’m sure it was a big draw for the kids, I wished they could have kept it to one area, because I was far more interested in the plants and art. In both the flower conservatory and the cloud forest, there were driftwood sculptures of animals. I love driftwood sculptures because they sort of look like things with the skin off so you can see the musculature underneath. There was also a really cool sculpture that looked like a stump had been dug up with the roots intact and the tree end made into an eagle’s head.

From there we went to Singapore’s famous Orchard Road, the high-end shopping district. Because we’re high rollers, we had an expensive lunch and then did some luxury shopping. We bought new toothbrushes, cough drops, and painkillers. Yeah, I know. You’re jealous.

On our second day in Singapore, we decided we’d go on our own to the amazing hotel with the observation deck shaped like a ship. I booked the tickets online yesterday, and we were going to walk there from the ship, because Googlina says it’s only a 20-minute walk.

Except, now I’m sick again. I’ve been low-key sick on and off for about a week, but now it’s really coming on. But here’s a thing: we already paid for the tickets, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to flush that money down the toilet. Small change of plans: the ship has a shuttle bus that drops people off right across the street from that hotel. Instead of walking, we’ll take the shuttle bus. It’s a little fiddly, because we want to leave as close to our ticket time (1:00pm) as possible, but we can’t leave the ship after noon because of some immigration rules. Yesterday, the process of getting through immigration just to go into town (which, in most other countries involves showing the immigration officials our cruise ID card, and, in some cases, our passports, which are given a cursory glance and then we skate in) took about 45 minutes. We decide to leave at 11:00am.

There’s nobody in the cruise terminal. We sailed through in about 5 minutes and managed to get on the bus just as it was leaving. This meant that, instead of getting there at noon-ish, we got there about 11:10. The bus dropped us off at the convention center which, like a lot of this part of Singapore, is attached to a gigantic, high-end mall (seriously- Orchard Road is one giant high-end mall after another). We walked through the mall where I bought a teapot and some more tea, and then had a pricey lunch at a lovely Indian place. From there, onto the hotel. Getting there was a little weird – a lot of major streets in Singapore can only be crossed either by tunnels underneath or bridges overhead. We couldn’t figure out how to get to the bridge that would take us to the hotel, and a guy who looked like he was picking up someone’s food order directed us to the correct elevator – so many people here are really, really nice!

The observation deck was everything it promised to be – great views of the entire city, and we got some really good pictures. Far in the distance in the center of this photo, you can see the Queen Mary 2.

I was thinking as we came back on the bus about how proud everyone in Singapore seems to be of their city. The cab drivers we had all bragged about how clean and safe it is, and exhorted us to go all sorts of places. Guides talked about its great infrastructure and innovative environmental programs. Yes, you hear about the stiff penalties for chewing gum and littering, but if I could have completely safe streets, a good social safety net, and tidy streets, I’m okay with not chewing gum.

Everything Is Ugly

I mentioned in my last post that finding clothing is hard. I’ve always had a distinct sense of style (nearly all of my clothes are black, white, or red; I like close-fitting more than flowy or loose; I like something dramatic like diagonal cuts, metal buttons, or bold prints), so it’s not like I’m going to the store thinking “I would like a new pair of pants. Let’s see what’s on offer.”

Back when I was a size 20/22, there were only a few stores I could shop at – Lane Bryant, Torrid, Universal Standard, Ashley Stewart. When you’re a larger person, finding clothes that fit can be tricky, since fat tends to spread itself unevenly around a body, so each configuration is unique. When I went clothes shopping, it was always a treasure hunt: where in this conglomeration of clothes was something that fit? Once that was narrowed down, it was a matter of choosing the thing I liked most or, more often, the thing I hated least.

Only now that I am an easier-to-fit size do I realize how ugly most clothing is.

Part of that judgment is a hatred of “fast fashion,” mostly sold in stores that cater to younger people who have both a limited budget and a desire to keep up with trends. The fabrics are usually thin and cheap, the construction is shoddy, and the colors are often offensive. Bile green? Really?

At the other end of the spectrum are the higher-end mall clothing stores also targeted at younger people, but in a much higher income bracket. In these stores, the clothes all look alike, change very little from season to season (the waistband gets marginally higher or lower, the leg length or circumference changes a bit, the plaid patterns vary) but the clothes are outrageously priced and the stores surround themselves with a nimbus of fragrance that makes them impossible to approach. The people who shop at those stores tend to conform with the norms of their social set so much that they look like flocks of birds feeding, running, flying in unison.

If one is older, there are other stores at the mall, and most of them carry clothes that remind me of stuff my mother would wear. My mother who’s 80 years old. And has great-grandchildren. Not that my mother has terrible taste, but her clothes tend to run toward the strictly practical. I’m all for a clog or a hiking boot in their place, but they’re not my go-to.

This proliferation of clothes I would never wear is something I didn’t expect back when my options were more limited. It’s like being vegan at a crappy restaurant where your only choice is the french fries and not realizing that all the food sucks.

One of my (many) ex-husbands told me once that I’d be happier if I lowered my standards, but I think he formulated that idea incorrectly. If my standards were already lower, I would probably be happier with the choices I have. The problem is that since I have high standards, lowering them wouldn’t make me happier. It would mean that I’d have more options, plus a lifetime of self loathing from knowing I can do better.

I don’t want that. All I want is the perfect pair of pants. I know it’s out there.

I Want My Cigarettes

There’s a scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where the men are sitting in their group circle talking, and Cheswick tells Nurse Rached he wants his cigarettes. Murphy tries to get one of the other men to give him a cigarette, and Cheswick gets angry, shouting that he doesn’t want anyone else’s cigarettes, he wants his cigarettes.

I’ve had a hard time going shopping. There are tons of things I need. New bras. New socks. New toothbrush. But every time I go into a store and see all the things I used to have, my mind just stops, and I stand looking at things like I’m hypnotized, which, in a way, I guess I am.

In addition, everyone has been beyond kind in offering things to us, especially our mothers, with whom we’re staying. It’s hard not to seem rude by refusing these very kind offers. I have two perfectly valid excuses: we don’t have the space to store anything, and there are plenty of things we won’t need until we have our own place anyway.

My husband and I went and visited the house, partly out of curiosity to see what might be left, and partly out of the need for pictures to prove to our insurance company the house is not salvageable. What we saw was like every apocalypse movie you’ve ever seen. Random bits of metal sticking out of drifts of ash, with occasional nonsensical, whole, undamaged things amid the carnage.

a pot, a pie server, a mug

Our 6-gallon stockpot, a 3-tiered pie stand, and an antique shaving mug belonging to the Pirate’s great-grandfather.

The stockpot was seldom used for food, and we got the pie stand out perhaps once a year. The shaving mug wasn’t technically whole, but it had been in the Pirate’s family forever and had an interesting history. I had no emotional attachment to these things, and am, at best, indifferent to their survival.

two and a half foot celtic cross made of metal

The Celtic cross from the front gate of our garden – the thing I saw as I came down the driveway, and as I went inside the house from the garage.

This Celtic cross was a newer addition to our house, but one that gave me a lot of joy. We’d gotten it at the Highland Games four or five years ago, and affixed it to our front gate, where the wisteria slowly surrounded and framed it. Every time I looked at it, its beauty struck me. This is the one and only thing whose survival touches me.

I went today to replace my Doc Martens. I wanted the exact pair of sandals I’d had, because I loved them and thought they looked great, but the store didn’t have them in my size. And then I realized that I didn’t want a replacement for the things I had.

I didn’t expect shopping to be this hard. I tried to go by myself once, and ended up having to call the Pirate for emotional support from the middle of Costco. I can be upbeat and optimistic about constructing a new house, but now I know that replacing the things in it will be a very different story.

Because I don’t want your things, or their things, or new things. I want my things.

I’m the Monster

It’s been a while since I posted, but I have a good excuse. I published the newest issue of Lunch Ticket, did the last stuff I needed to do for my grad school residency, and drove down to Los Angeles.

I’m down here for ten days at a time, and I’ve gotten fairly good at packing. But I’ve never been so good at packing that I haven’t forgotten something crucial and had to hit the Target near the school.

Being in Los Angeles is kinda nice. It’s anonymous. Back home, I see people I know everywhere – at the supermarket, at the gym, at every restaurant I frequent. Here at this Target, nobody knows me. It’s like being invisible or wearing a mask.

I took my purchases up to the bank of registers, but out of twenty or so registers, only four were open, each with a line of at least five people. Everyone shifted from foot to foot, looked at each other, thumbed their phones. The woman in front of me looked at the long lines off to our right and remarked to her husband that she hated this Target because it was always crowded. As I turned my head to look at the crowd, a tall Native American-looking man two registers over turned toward me. His mouth dropped open, and he reached up with one hand, as though about to point to the ceiling.

The man’s shorter brother put an arm around the man’s back, and as his hand encircled the taller man’s waist, the tall guy’s head began to shake. His arm twitched, and his legs folded under him. With a practiced motion, the brother gently guided him to the ground.

That’s when I noticed that the brother, who now stood guard over his shaking, drooling sibling and told
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