When two queens met in the harbour

Compulsory Sydney harbourbridgeoperahouse photograph

If you thought that Singaporeans were compulsive queuers, lining up for anything, and joining a line even if they didn’t know what they were lining up for, then you ought to take a look at Sydneysiders. We’ve got quite a few things in common with these antipodeans.

Two Tuesdays ago (20 Feb), Naomi and I decided to make a day trip out of Circular Quay, the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens. We had heard and read that two of the world’s most famous cruise liners, the Queen Mary 2 and her older sibling, the Queen Elizabeth 2, were due in port that afternoon, and that traffic around the harbour was expected to be heavy.

If you count the little slopes in the RBG, there isn’t a more appropriate idiom than 人山人海。Damn! 华梧’s cool!

The radio and newspaper announcements turned out to be understatements. That evening, news reports estimated that around 300,000 people had flocked to see the two big ships. Yes, just to see the two big ships! On a Tuesday! There were no free passes for an on-board tour while the ships were in port (for less than a day), no free souvenirs, no nothing. Just see. Or catch a glimpse of, as Naomi and I did, as we gave up walking to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair from the Opera House because the teeming mass of humanity was just too teeming.

We already had enough trouble getting to the Opera House by car. The original plan had been to drive down Mrs Macquarie’s Road and park at one of the many streetside lots that I remembered existed when I lived in Sydney 7 years ago – a plan which, Naomi says, had a high chance of failure because parking lots from 7 years ago had a very high chance of, well, not existing in the present day.

Not that it mattered, because just as we were about to turn into the leafy street behind St Mary’s Cathedral, we were turned away by a very apologetic park warden who told us we were better off not attempting to get near the harbour by car.

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
We took many photos of St Mary’s Cathedral because we were stuck in traffic next to it

Since we had already spent a good hour and a half in the car travelling only a few kilometres, we endured the traffic a little bit more and inched ourselves to the Opera House car park, where we saw the A$18 an hour fee on the board and said fuck it, we’ll park. Of course, no one told us that 15 minutes would be spent trying to find a lot in the cavernous round and round underground car park of the world famous building.

One Sydney family had it worse, thinking it’d be a good thing if they took public transport, took a train from their home in the west, disembarked at Central Station, hopped on a taxi for what they thought would be a short 2km plus hop to the harbour. The taxi meter ticked like mad and they ended up paying A$40 for the ride.

Contrary to popular belief, the shape of the Opera House was not inspired by sails nor by seashells, but by segments of an orange

Normally, we’d be grumpy as hell, holiday or not. But thanks to the almost overwhelming charm of Sydney (unless you’re Dick Cheney) and her attractions, we weren’t. Not when you see a signboard like this:


As for the ships the throng had gathered by the shore to see, we could only make out the top of the Queen Mary 2 on the other side of Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. QE2 hadn’t even arrived yet. But it was easy to understand that somehow, that wasn’t the point of being there. You’re just glad you’re just there, whatever the event that is going on.

The Gardens: Ship, what ship?

The Gardens

Note to Australian: Cut down tree, use wood to make paper, then write.

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Pick it up lah!

Reservists don't look like that
What reservists don’t look like

It rained all of yesterday, pissing down on all of us while we were at the combat shoot range near Pasir Laba Camp (or Pasir Labia Camp, as we called it, which is built around Bukit Vagina, as we giggled some more like secondary school boys, but you know, it’s a bit tiring to talk about how vulgar our conversations are when we’re in reservist.)

Strangely, we weren’t as miserable as we ought to have been – being in wet clothes for what, twenty hours or so and being stung by mosquitoes hardy enough to withstand our saturation spraying of much Off as well as our liberal application of many citronella patches all over ourselves.

As a platoon mate, who shall not be named because these days, if you get named on this blog, everyone in your office gets to know about your exploits in camp, and I really don’t want that to happen to you. Unless you want it to. If so, leave a comment and I’ll insert your names…

As I was saying, this platoon mate says to a bunch of grumbling fellow troopers who’ve started a conversation with, “Wah lao, this kind of rain won’t stop one leh!”, that we should “think about it. How often do you get to walk in the rain?”

I think he meant for us to try to enjoy our day out, and the conversation veered to how some people pay good money to enjoy getting stung by mosquitoes and other sundry insects while getting drenched on eco-tours.

You’d understand by now that despite being in uniform and bearing the latest in automatic rifles and Army gear, we weren’t thinking about how proficient we were going to be as soldiers – something which, in this 9th year of reservist (I have to keep calling it that though I know the official name is National Service) training, is getting increasingly laughable given our creeping ages.

The upshot is that for most of us, safety was always going to be the foremost consideration, as an exchange at the combat range between the control point officer and a safety specialist, over loundhailers, in the dark, would testify:

SS: “Hold it! Wait! Wait! Wait!”

CP: “Yes, what?”

SS: “Live round (bullet)! Live round!”

CP: “Where is it? Is it stuck in the chamber (of the rifle)? Is it double chambering?”

SS: “No!”

CP: “Then where?”

SS: “On the ground!”

CP: “Wah lau! Then pick it up lah! Idiot!”

Much laughter ensued. And so, yes, W, you missed out on a good one.

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