Monthly Archive for April, 2005

Istanbul

Sleep has been a very important concept for me in the last week. Very important. Just as my body had adjusted to American time, it then had to adjust for Greek time. And to make things more fun, I caught a 6pm bus from Athens that arrived 1.30pm the next day in Istanbul. The smelly illegal immigrant from a Black Sea state next to me, felt my pain, and spent 18 hours sleeping and hugging me whenever the bus turned. Four hours later in Istanbul, I was on another bus, to Gallipoli. At 12am I arrived, only to spend the next five hours trying to keep my body from freezing until the start of the Dawn Service (you can read a less whiny post on my Anzac experience here).

The bus trip back to Istanbul was the sweetest sleep ever. Somehow, I sleptwalked my way from the bus to a hostel. And then I was happy.

Istanbul is a great city, and it is completely over run by Aussies and the odd kiwi fruit. The Turks love Australians, and we are being treated like a bit of a novelty. I had a day in the city because the next 19 hour flight (bus drivers in this part of the world seem to think buses are a perfect way to practice for pilot school) doesn’t leave until tommorow, which was great: I finally had the chance to spit on Doge Enrico Dandolos grave (don’t worry, I did an extra one for you as well).

Next destination is the “village” in motherland Greece, deep in the footholds of the Peloponnese, to celebrate Greek Easter.

Athens to Istanbul

Amused myself by trying to throw things in this guy’s mouth

Athens to Istanbul

These guys did not know each other. I could not wait for when they woke up and found out they had been sleeping on each other.

Gallipoli

Humanity. Identity. And youth. Those were the three unspoken themes that permeated the atmosphere at Gallipoli, the site at which 90 years earlier, soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, France, Britain and Turkey fought in a battle that lasted nine months but would forever haunt the site. Militarily, this battle brought bloodshed on all sides. Culturally, however, it would come to define the modern Australian and Turkish states ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú creating a legend that would affect us to this day.

Background

Even in ancient times, Byzantium was a very influential city. It controlled trade and shipping that would pass from the Black Sea and Anatolia, to the Mediterranean ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the junction that connected Europe to the Silk Road. So strategically important was its position, that the Roman emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 325 AD ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú where it ruled the world supreme for a thousand years. In 1453, the Ottoman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s finally invaded the impregnable city with a new technology ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú canon fire ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and made the since renamed city ?¢‚ǨÀúConstantinople?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ the capital of her vast empire.

In 1914, the Ottoman Empire ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú now on its last legs ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú had joined the Germans in the First World War. Constantinople, like it has always been, was a strategically important city. To capture it meant that the Allied armies could eliminate the Ottoman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s from the war, as well as control the key black sea trading route ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú ensuring a starved Russia could get supplies and support, as the Western side of her belly was cut off by the Germans. The Gallipoli peninsula led into Constantinople, and if the Allies could capture the Peninsula, they could make their way up to Constantinople and achieve their objective. The outcome of this battle had huge ramifications for all the sides fighting, as it could have broken the stalemate on the western front.

Kamal Attaturk was the commander in charge of the Ottoman army at the Gallipoli peninsula. His success in defending his homeland, made him a national hero, and no doubt played an important factor in him becoming Turkey?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s first President in 1927 ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú whereby he oversaw the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia modernised and completely revitalised into the powerful country we see today.

Of the Australian and New Zealand forces fighting there, the battle has became a symbol that defined two young nations, as up until then, their colonial past was the only identity that they had. They were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the acronym to those words has come to represent a commemoration for fallen heroes; and for Australia, the uniqueness of her culture and people.

Ninety years later ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the memorial ceremonies
The memorial consisted of three parts. The first part was the Dawn Service, which started at 4am. Later in the morning, the Lone Pine Service was held, to commemorate the Australian troops ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as five of the seven Victorian crosses awarded were due to acts performed at this site. And afterwards, the New Zealander?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s held their service at Chanuuk Bar, which was the highest ground reached by the Anzac?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s.

The Dawn Service was held in an area called North Beach, which was just above Anzac cove. The area was held in a space the equivalent of a football field. The crude estimate that 14,000 people were there was based on the assumption two people could fit in each square metre. A lady who was handing out programmes, said that of the 19,000 printed, 17,000 had already been handed out at 12am ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú when not even three-quarters of the attendants had arrived. Add to the fact that there were literally thousands of young Turkish people swarming in the masses – it would not be unreasonable to say that 20-25,000 attended this year?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s service.

A local Turkish girl teased me, because she had one layer of clothing and was fine. I on the other hand had three layers, and was numb, shaking and could only concentrate on breathing and keeping warm from the winds, which made the five-degree Celsius climate feel like minus five. As someone who had only recently come from Australia?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s March climate, to experience Turkey?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s April chill, I stood perplexed at how men my age and younger – a military historian claims to have discovered a soldier aged 14 and nine-months – had to jump out of boats into the water and onto these fields. And then dig a hole, where they had to eat, shit and fight out of for the nine-months that followed.

The ceremony itself was nice. It probably would have been more enjoyable had we not been in the cold for so long. Nevertheless the light show, which was to simulate the sun-rise as the Anzac?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s landed on the shore, was quite spectacular. The rugged and steep hill behind us and which was 100 metres from the shore – simultaneously lit up in portions, as a flashing multi-coloured light projected from a corner near the water on our front left. It was dark, but there was also a full-moon which gave the shore an eerie feel. The lightshow against a backdrop of darkness was surreal; and the deathly quiet during the show, with the speaker system booming the voice of the narrator, definitely made an impression to those there.

After the Dawn Service, most people climbed the hills to Lone Pine. It was here that everyone who attended would agree was the highlight of the experience. Sitting in what was like a mini stadium ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the 4,000 seats were full, and the ground was covered with people. John Howard, the Prime Minister, made an early arrival and did his rounds through the crowds. He was greeted with a standing ovation and cheering ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which he lapped up every moment off. However when the same treatment was bestowed on Kim Beazley ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the opposition leader ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú he may had realised that it was more larrikinism than respect when he heard those cheers.

After five false starts, a Mexican wave did a complete loop, including the armed service band, whom dropped there instruments to give a very precise and uniform wave. However what had me startled was that it would not stop. Every few minutes, I would notice the stand directly opposite me stand up, again, and after the wave had passed me six times, I started to wonder if it would ever end. It did, but that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s only because we were busy asking all the dignitaries to give us a wave, which would have a stand erupt in cheering and laughter when they did

Dignitaries were plenty. From Australia, we had the Prime Minister, Opposition leader and quite a few members of the Federal Cabinet. Victoria?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Tasmania?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s premiers were present, and Prince ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChucky?¢‚Ǩ? Charles was in attendance (but no Camilla). Top military brass from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, Turkey, France and I am sure a few more filled the official chairs. In fact, some many ?¢‚ǨÀúdignitaries?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ came, that they ran out of official chairs ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú much like how the entire day panned out ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a gross underestimation of the amount of people that would come.

An interesting observation was how Australian democracy was being represented overseas. When the Prime Minister gave the speech at the Dawn Service, it was the opposition leader that was to lay the wreath for Australia. Our ?¢‚ǨÀúhead of state?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢, represented by chucky, had no role of importance other than a token prayer (and only at the Dawn Service). The Australian head of state ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the Governor-General, with the current holder of the office also a former military officer ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú was nowhere to be seen.

It became evident that the things Howard spoke about, and by the way the ceremony was organised, that he was doing more than just a memorial service ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but was trying to shape an Australian psyche. He laboured to have us acknowledge sacrifice, mateship and courage as Australian virtues?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but he had no trouble having us understand larrikinism, as was evident with the master of ceremonies repeatedly having trouble controlling the crowd.

The Service at Chanuuk Bar was a long walk up, which was a sobering experience to see how the New Zealand troops were able to get so far. Whilst I did not attend the service, people reflected that it was not as good. The noise generated by the Turkish children passing by to their buses, as nearby they were celebrating their own ?¢‚Ǩ?ìVictory?¢‚Ǩ? of the battle, made it apparently difficult to enjoy the moment

Overall Observations
The thing that struck everyone who attended, were the amount of young people present. Most of the crowds were Australians based in London on working holidays or GAP-year students working somewhere in Europe. An older contingent of retirees made their presence felt, and it seemed that for all except the tour-guides, it was a first-time experience. Nearly all that I spoke to wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have come to Turkey had it not been for the 90th celebration. Although everyone also said, they would definitely be back again.

Another thing that struck us as strange were the amount of Turkish people there. In recent years, the battle has raised in national importance in Turkey ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and questions are being raised by the younger generation as to the amount that died (there is no Turkish burial site). There were boys and girls there from all over Turkey. Some where there just to see what the fuss was about. Pretty much all of the young Turkish men there, came because they think Australian women are easy to pick up. Whilst it annoyed me and I am sure other people how the Turks in attendance didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t show much respect by keeping quiet and stationary during the Dawn Service, it was startling to see so many other young Turkish children on the walk up to Chanuuk Bar. Even nicer was the warmth both nations showed each other in their interactions, a thing confirmed to me in Istanbul where all the shopkeepers who realised I was Australian, would tell me how much they liked Australians. Sure they were trying to sell me something, but they seemed genuinely respectful.

Australian poets and songwriters have long lamented that when the last ANZAC would die, the importance of the day would be lost in history. The last Australian ANZAC has died, however I wish that some of those artists could have been there, as they would realise a fresh generation of young Australians would carry the tradition on ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú although for different reasons. Being surrounded by so many Australians, in a foreign continent where some had not heard an Aussie accent since they were in Australia, gave everyone a warmth. However being in a crowd of Aussies, laughing and cheering together, and nodding our heads at things that the Turkish tour guides didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t understand, did something else. It made you feel like an Australian. And it made you feel glad you were one.

New York, New York

I’ve been in New York city since Saturday, and I fly out for Europe this Wednesday (tomorrow). You honestly need a full week to really appreciate this city, so I am a little disappointed. But I also know I’ll be back, so it doesn’t phase me too much.

My cousins in Boston drove me down and stayed for a night. We shared a room that cost $US200, overlooking a lovely cemetery. The average rooms in the city were $500! Accommodation is a real bitch here. The last few nights I have been staying with my other cousin Pete. He lives in Greenwich village, down on 11th St. It’s a bit like Sydney’s Paddington – young, trendy, gay-friendly, yuppie-ish. Such a nice area though, compared to the dirt in NY’s touristy regions like Canal St (China Town) and Mulberry St (Little Italy).

I stood atop the Empire State Building, visited Wall St, Ground zero, and dropped by Battery park which is where the statue of liberty ferry takes off (they ran out of tickets when I went). I also walked through some of Central Park, and visited the American Museum of Natural History which was awesome. I’ve been extremely lucky with my family connections here in the States, and in the case of NY, Pete has taken me to some good food joints. We also went to a Comedy club (Gotham) which was really high quality. We were sitting at the centre-front seats. And yes, yours truly was the butt of all five comedian’s jokes – everything from my watch, my shirt, my mobile on the table, and my nationality. Almost as bad as my experience at the r-rated hypnotist show in Boston (don’t ask).

New Yorkers are in such a hurry. They are like a trail of lemmings, running into each other and whatever is in their way. The city itself is impressive – Manhattan is organised in a grid system, which is very handy. The city is so dense, that every avenue (roads going South-North; “Streets” go east-west) are main roads, crowded with people at all hours. There are about 12 avenues, and 150 streets – to give you an idea of the size of Manhattan. Whilst there are tall skyscrapers, it’s also the average buildings that amazes me. You’d be pressed to find anything smaller than four-storeys – meaning you have these valleys of buildings all around you. And because of the grid system, you’re looking quite literally looking down a valley of buildings.

The subway system is very good, however this is more because of the grid system rather than the actual subway that makes it so good. All the subway lines do is go up and down in straight lines, directly underneath avenues, looping when they get to the end. The result is that you have several of these lines running parallel, enabling you to get to any part of Manhattan very quickly. Having said that though, the trains run quick, and I found them reasonably clean.

Cars are abundant as well, and clogged up roads are the norm. It’s interesting though that when looking at parked cars, apart from tourists, all the cars appear very upmarket – implying that driving is a rich persons luxury. Although with such a good subway system, I can’t see why you need a car.

Plenty more to say – however all I will say is do yourself a favour and visit New York at least once in your life because it really is the capital of the world. Next destination is Athens, but really it is Gallipoli, as I spend two days in Athens, waiting for my bus trip to Istanbul.

Harvard

Harvard University is America’s oldest; world renown for its educational excellence, and its President who said women are too stupid to study science. The tour I was on was led by one of those keen undergraduate students – y’know the ones who are trying to earn brownie points, so that they have something to say on their CV when they are running for student office, applying for a scholarship, or filling out the employment form at their local Burger King. As honourable as her intentions are to flip burgers and contribute to Fat America’s love of fast food, I couldn’t help but reminisces of a lot of people I knew at University. She was one of those high-school geeks, with acne and glasses. Now, at university, she got herself some Clearasil and contacts, and after dropping a few party pills, proclaims to now be “cool” with her other ex-geek friends.

The tour-guide also reminded me of Sydney University’s propaganda. Her talk about Harvard university wanting “well-balanced” people, giving them the whole education, nearly made me laugh, because it was the same shit I heard throughout my university experience. It’s funny how a person who studies Latin in her spare time, and thinks breathing is a sport, believes she is part of that a “well-balanced” philosophy.

The tour was fairly interesting, although I must admit, I expected things to look a little classier. However the classiest thing about Harvard is the logo, which has “Truth” in Latin on it – a funny irony when you look at the statue of John Harvard. It claims John Harvard was the founder (he wasn’t – Massachusetts Bay Colony was); it claims it was founded in 1838 (was actually 1836); and even the statue itself is a fake – the guy that made it had no idea what Harvard looked like and so just put a random face on it.

My favourite story of the tour was about the library. Apparently, there was this mega-geek kid who loved collecting old books. Mummy paid for a trip to Europe where he went rare-book collecting, as you do when you go to Europe, and stumbled on some book that made him orgasm in excitement. So excited he was, that he decided to cut his trip home and return to America to show his books. Unfortunately, the ride home was on the Titanic.

Mother was distraught, and in memory of her son, she donated a big wad of money to Harvard to create a permanent library. However, there were three conditions that had to be met, otherwise funding would be revoked and she would haunt the place.

First of all, they had to maintain a little area with a picture of mega-geek son, and a fresh flower was to be placed there every day. “No problems there”, I am sure the Harvard council said back then, grabbing the cash. Unfortunately, the other two requests were a little weirder

The mother of mega-geek, quite logically I think, thought that if her son knew how to swim, then he would have survived the ship-wreck. After all, the Atlantic ocean, surrounded by ice-bergs, would have be a simple swim at the beach by today’s standards. So mother of mega-geek prescribed that every student had to know how to swim, if they were to graduate. And up until very recently, every student had to pass a swimming test (they stopped it because of discrimination laws).

The third request was that the no brick, mortar or piece of stone was to be ever removed. This poses a bit of a problem for a growing library, that is already four floors high, and six under the ground. The solution was discovered by a Harvard legal team, who had poured over the legal document, suggesting that they would remove the glass of a window and create a walkway to an adjacent building through the window. Although they removed the bridge last year, I thought that was fairly clever. I always knew academics had a place in our world. If only they can get out of their world, and join ours, we would be so much more better off.

An Italian guy, whose facial expressions made it out like he was trying to shit razor-blades, ended up asking a question about fees. The tour leader said it cost about $35,000-40,000 a year, but that also includes boarding and unlimited food – and all students are forced with that package. Although that was in US Dollars, I didn’t think that was too bad, considering at Sydney University you have to pay $20,000 for a college and a full-fee law degree costs about $15,000 a year. Whilst $200,000 for a degree is a bloody lot of money, it would be semi-worth it if the education was world-class.

One thing the guide mentioned, which was interesting, was that students are required to have a broad education as as well as a specialty. For example, you study your specialty such as accounting or French, but you also have to do subjects in seven of the 11 subjects areas furthest away from your discipline.

Harvard came across as sub-standard, when the tour-leader talked about the equivalent to tutorial classes – which average 15-20 people. I don’t care how good an education is, if you have overcrowded lectures and overcrowded tutorials, it’s like looking at the difference between dog shit and bat shit: it’s the same shit with a different smell.

Before I arrived, I had illusions that Harvard would be a cool place to study. Fuzzy haired geeks, sitting under a tree with apples dropping on their heads, and then writing up a complicated math’s formula that solves world poverty. Or overgrown oafs, playing football with that jackarse kid that no one liked at school. I was thinking ground-breaking research, world-class facilities, and really hot chicks. Alas, I walked out of the place realising that the only people that go to Harvard are rich geeks, and well-connected jocks. Harvard may be a great institution, but my impression of its undergraduate program, is that it’s just another brand is today’s commodity-business education market.

Boston

I am hopeless – so much for trying to write entries in this blog every few days. Either way, these last two weeks as been more about visiting family rather than experiencing wild and exotic things.

I spent two nights in Ohio with my friend Debbie, and it was nice. However I spent my entire time sleeping, as it rained, while Debbie was stressing out over her school assignments. Lucky I rested, because the day I got off the plan at Boston, I had a bit of a crazy schedule.

My cousins Stacy and Elaine – whom I have never met before – picked me up and took me to a bar straight away. It was about 2pm. At about 9pm, I went to their house, and met my aunty and uncle for the first time – completely drunk as a skunk. I passed out on the couch. Apparently, it took a while to wake me up.

The second night, we went – surprise surprise – drinking. I had three long island ice teas the size of balloons (you’ll see them in my pictures). On top of that, the girl behind the bar was Stacy’s friend – meaning extra alcohol. I have never had that much to drink before in my life in such a short space of time. I passed out on the couch that night. Again.

The next night…lets not go there. Almost two weeks later, and I have become like a piece of the furniture around the house – it is going to be weird when we say our goodbyes. I get along like an absolute riot with my cousins, who are drop-dead-gorgeous, however they are also completely fruity – absolutely hilarious. And don’t get me started on my uncle and aunty – they are like living cartoons. “Oh mae Gads” – I have adopted half of their vocabulary.

I have also met like a gazillion families I am related to. Crazy. And I am absolutely convinced that my uncles have formed their own little mafia outfit here. So mafioso it’s not funny – Cadillac’s, pizza parlours, and “donations”. They know everyone is their area. The police are very friendly to my family here – must be the free pizzas. God I hope so.

Massachusetts, and in particular Boston, is an amazing area. I came not expecting to see anything but family, and instead I was blown away by the culture and history. It is home to the first American settlers; it is where the American revolution started; the first baseball game (and last year’s world series winners). They are even the home state for the Kennedy family.

There are over 50 colleges and universities in sister city, Cambridge (more like a suburb), including MIT and Harvard. They have some of the leading medical facilities in the world. Even two of the September 11 planes began their flights from Logan Airport in Boston. Could you ask for any more fame? No wonder they call this state “the spirit of America”.

I also visited nearby state Rhode Island, which is where the mafia hang out. We are pretty sure we had a beer at one of the mafia’s fronts, overlooking the beautiful chemical plant on this (not-quite-water-anymore) water-front location.

The Australian thing is a bit annoying. Not just the accent, but the vocabulary as well. So many common Aussie words like “queue”, “buggard” and “you give me the shits” are unheard of here. Half the people I speak to look at my like a stunned deer. The other half laugh their “asses” off. However if you want to speak Boston-english, just say the words “Wicked” and “Nasty” and you will get nods of acknowledgement, like they totally understand what you mean, even if it makes no sense.

Off to New York on the weekend. Can’t wait.

Landed

I’ve landed safely – finally!

It’s been an interesting experience so far. When I was at Sydney airport, waiting in the check-in queue which was chokka-block, my mind drifted and I kept perving at one of the airport workers. Unfortunately, every time I looked, she caught me out. But it obviously paid off, because she let the guys in front of me as well as myself to jump the queue and line up at the business class section which had nobody waiting!

So as I am checking in, making idle chit-chat with the attendant, she tells me I have been upgraded to business class. I told her she was making a mistake, because I’m just a plebian that got lucky with the queue situation, but it turns out that because the flight was over booked, and because I am a “high-level customer”, I had my seat upgraded! United Airlines is part of star alliance, and due to my trip to Greece in 2003, I had acquired ‘Silver Status’.

As I walked to my gate, I looked for my passport to board the flight. It was missing. Somewhere between immigration and the gate, I had dropped my passport. With 15 minutes until the gates closed, I ran around like a chicken on ecstasy. It was finally found by some guy underneath the X-ray machines – it must of slipped out of my plastic travel case as I was collecting my items. Reconfirmation of a lesson previously learnt #1: When they say never lose sight of your passport, it means literally, never lose sight!

As I am sitting in my business class seat, thinking I had used up my luck for today, I started speaking to my neighbour. Anyone ever heard of GATX? Me neither, but apparently they own most of the aircraft we fly on. Anyway, it turns out I was sitting next to Alan Coe, the guy in charge of the company’s two-billion-dollar aircraft division! Naturally of course, I asked all the pesky questions like how he got to where he is, and what he looked for in interviews. Even though we spent most of the flight sleeping, the chats I had with him about his life were really interesting. Although he has probably forgotten about me now, his words of wisdom will most likely make an impact on my career.

After that, the flight was rather uneventful. I had to transit via San Francisco and Chicago Airports, before I actually got to Dayton in Ohio. The only fun I had was asking a woman in San Francisco to look after my bags, whilst I went to the toilet – I did not give her a chance to reply, and when I got back she told me she had wet her pants, because you are not allowed to leave bags unattended (bombs and stuff). She was still shaking as we walked on the plane

My friend Debbie thought I was coming the next night and wasn’t at the airport. My phone battery had nearly died, and she was not answering her phone, but luckily I got through to her eventually and just in time. She abused me for misinforming, and I apologised profusely (even though they are not – always say a woman is right – until they realise they are wrong). However when we checked the e-mail I sent her with my flight details, she was wrong and she is indulging herself in some humble pie. Reconfirmation of a lesson previously learnt #2: Women are the same no matter where you are.