Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Usually, I’m pretty savvy about geography, but for some reason I thought that Sydney, Australia was on the ocean. Whenever I looked at a map of Australia, Sydney appeared to be on the coast – this is such a large country that small maps of it don’t show much detail. Then there are the more than 70 beaches and the famous surfing spots like Bondi Beach that I have always read about. To my surprise I discovered that the city center is located about a third of the way down a long inlet that forms the famous Sydney Harbour – it’s the suburbs that are actually on the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t come to Sydney and not visit its famous beaches so today I climbed aboard a ferry for the 15-minute ride to the town of Manly.

Pulling into the ferry dock at Manly Australia

Pulling into the ferry dock at Manly

The Corso, the main street in Manly Australia

“The Corso” – the main street in Manly

The boat docked on the inlet side of the narrow strip of land that forms the northern entry to the inlet. A five-minute walk down “The Corso” (the main drag) took me from the inlet side to the ocean side of town, where a promenade ran the entire length of the long crescent of golden-pink sand that is Manly Beach. It was immediately apparent that surfing is taken seriously here – in fact, surfing is considered a national sport in Australia.

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Sydney, Australia is rife with museums and art galleries. There’s the Australian Heritage Fleet, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Conservation Resource Centre, the Discovery Museum at The Rocks, the Justice and Police Museum, the Macleay Museum, the Museum of Australian Currency Notes, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum, the Pylon Lookout, the Sydney Tramway Museum, the Sydney Observatory, and the Jewish Museum, to name a few. Normally I am not much of a museum aficionado but my friend, Jane, insisted that the Art Museum of New South Wales was not to be missed.

Sydney Domain Australia

Sydney Domain

For $2.90 I hopped on a bus from her house and asked the driver to call out the stop for the Art Museum. He deposited me at the foot of an imposing fortress that was undoubtedly a museum, however as I was climbing the stairs I realized that I was at the Australian Museum, which was featuring an exhibit called “100 Years of Australia Through the National Geographic Lens.” Oooh, tempting! But I decided to stick to my original plan. I pulled out my map and discovered that the way to the Art Museum would take me through Cathedral Square and into The Domain, a huge expanse of park that undulates gently between the Botanic Gardens and Woolloomooloo Bay (don’t ask me to pronounce that one because I can’t – I’m still trying to correctly say the name of the town of Cairns). I walked through the Aquatic Center, passed statuesque St. Mary’s Cathedral, and entered the Domain, following a dirt path through rolling lawns and soccer fields toward the Art Museum. It was a typical winter day, with crisp temperatures and lots of sunshine. The late afternoon sun saturated the colors as it began its descent behind the downtown skyscrapers. Read More

When I began this trip I decided I would select three words that best described each country I visited. Initially I was going to wait until the end of the trip and compile them all into one post, but I have decided to do this immediately upon departing each country, as the reasons for selecting those particular words will be fresh in my mind. So, here goes for the countries I have visited to date:


  1. Industrious (With the possible exception of Hanoi, people were bustling about everywhere I went – busy selling, buying, doing. Not surprising, since Vietnam is currently the fastest growing economy in the world)
  2. Emerging (rather than poor)
  3. Stuck (There is severe mistrust between the multitude of ethnic groups that inhabit Vietnam and abiding oppression of the non-Viet peoples by the government; there is distinct dislike between North and South Vietnamese – I heard over and over again from northerners that they wouldn’t want their daughters to marry a slow, stupid southerner and from southerners I heard repeatedly how northerners couldn’t be trusted; and there is severe corruption in the country at the government level. The result is that Vietnam is identity-less – the people themselves do not yet have a feeling for who they are as a nationality, much less a national identity. They are well and truly stuck.)


  1. Lush (Greenery and lush jungle was everywhere)
  2. Spiritual (The most beautiful temples I have seen anywhere in the world)
  3. Beautiful (A feast for the eyes in a small island that has such diversity – dense jungle, towering active volcanoes, colorful offshore reefs, and lovely beaches)


My friend Jane and I attended a meditation class this morning given by a man named John Barter. John is a psychologist by trade who does counseling and life coaching and conducts classes in mindfulness and meditation. He is also an ex-Buddhist monk, having lived a monastic life for many years in Thailand, Switzerland, and England before making the decision to disrobe. His chosen subject could not have been more appropriate for the issues I am struggling with these days. He began with a short story about a couple who had decided to marry and told their pastor the news. The pastor was very happy for them and gave his blessing, adding his wish that they always see each other as strangers. The couple thought this was a very strange blessing until the pastor explained that he had seen so many marriages fail when the partners began to take each other for granted once they knew each other well.

John related this to everyday life, explaining that our boredom or unhappiness is caused by not being fully present. He cited the steps we had to climb to get into his home, using me as an example, saying that these steps were a completely new experience for me, having never been to his house before. But everyone else in the room has climbed his front steps so many times that they probably did not pay any attention to them that morning. Yet the steps are never exactly the same. Perhaps a leaf that was not there last week has come to rest on the stairway. Or seasonal light has cast them in shade rather than sunshine. By not being fully present, we miss these subtle differences. We are so busy obsessing about something that happened last week or worrying about what tomorrow will bring that we fail to recognize what is happening around us at that very moment.

To his challenge to be fully present John added another factor – what he calls having “last time mindfulness.” Each event that occurs in our lives will never again happen at that precise moment, in the precise way it happened. Read More

As I walked to and from the Sydney Writer’s Festival yesterday I took lots of photos so I thought I’d just share a few:

The promenade along Sydney harbour Australia

The promenade along Sydney Harbour is always full of people strolling, enjoying the ever-present sunshine and street performers (called ‘buskers’ here), festivals, and food

Old wharf building converted for performing arts, conventions, restaurants and retail usealong Sydney Harbour Australia

Old wharf building converted for performing arts, conventions, restaurants and retail use

North Sydney, as seen from the foot of the Harbour Bridge, with its waterfront amusement park Australia

North Sydney, as seen from the foot of the Harbour Bridge, with its waterfront amusement park

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According to anthropologists, the Aborigines have inhabited Australia for between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Yet today it is common to hear white Australians refer to themselves as having descended from the “first settlers.” Unfortunately, the indigenous population of Australia has been abused, neglected, terrorized, and denied basic human rights since the days these “first settlers” arrived. It was only in a 1967 referendum, when 90% of the nation voted to make all Aborigines citizens of Australia and give them the right to vote, that this began to slowly change.

I learned all this at the Sydney Writer’s Festival where, on the 40th anniversary of the referendum, a panel of Aboriginal writers, statesmen, and community leaders reflected upon the things that have changed and the things that have not changed since the legislation was passed into law. One woman recalled the eve of the referendum as her family tried to grasp the fact that they were now full citizens of the country that their ancestors had inhabited for eons. They were awed and elated until the next morning, when her mother walked into the grocery store and, as usual, was followed around by clerks to ensure she stole nothing and made to exit through the rear door, as the front door was for whites only. Their night of elation quickly turned to sorrow as they realized that, although the law had changed, people’s attitudes hadn’t, and in reality nothing had really changed at all.

Others spoke of times when Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their homes, put into government schools, forced to learn English and punished for speaking their native language. To keep them from running away they were told that their parents were dead, or that their parents didn’t want them. Now, 40 years later, some things Read More