I happily changed all my coins and bills into australian currency before departing to Sydney. Upon arriving I waited in a bit of consternation outside the international terminal for my cousin – who I’d never met and had only a photo to go by. As soon as we walked to the car I knew this place would feel strange to me – just easy enough to get everywhere that I forget the little differences. At the car, of course, I tried to sit in the driver’s seat. I’d proceed to make this mistake continually from then on. When I arrived at my uncle’s place I made the switch to Cantonese. My uncle and aunt speak hardly any English and when they do it’s with such a thick accent it the same thing. They were all worried we’d be unable to communicate as my mother’s warned them my Chinese is pretty useless and I have too, via email. Luckily I’ve been able to converse just fine. I’ve made it a point so speak about an hour or two every day with my aunt, and thus I’m experiencing Cantonese immersion in Sydney.
Apparently this isn’t at all unusual. I thought I knew what a cosmopolitan city was until I arrived here. Here people on the streets, in the busses, in the libraries, in banks, etc. speak non-English languages as there sole language. That is they are often not bilingual, instead relying on enclaves to be fine. So my uncle and aunt not speaking any English is pretty normal – they can as their doctor, banker, dentist, grocer, etc. all speak just Cantonese, too. I’m slowly losing my shyness to speak it, too. You see when I learn Turkish or Polish or Spanish or what have you I have no shame whatsoever. I’ll speak it horrid accent and all and I don’t particularly feel self conscious because I know they’ll forgive me. So I learn those quickly. But Chinese? There’s a lot of embarrassment and shame wrapped up in there that I have the hardest time with.
On Monday I headed into the city to procure a permit. Now, a few days later with no one having bothered me for one, I realize I shouldn’t have bothered. Australians are very kind and used to buskers. They tend to think of Americans like myself as a rather uncivilized lot and I must say I generally agree. Then again, they’re amazingly more sports mad and keen to drink than we and if that’s not barbaric…
After acquiring the permit I walked around a bit to ascertain a good spot to play. My cousin Andrew took me into the city Sunday to show me about so I felt pretty confident looking. I’d pretty much decided on the Devonshire Tunnel beneath the Central Station and what luck, it was completely unoccupied but for a paltry melodion player. I felt suspicious. Maybe it’s a shit pitch then? I asked an artist hawking her aboriginal wares if I might play near her and she welcomed me cheerily to do so. Throughout the pitch Tammie sang a long some to the songs she knew, which were many. The hour and a bit went well. I sang all my best busking songs to the detriment of my voice to get Sydney busking off to a good start. While I didn’t earn the heaps people assumed I would, I did well enough to feel encouraged. That tunnel is very heavily trafficked, especially during the rush hour I played, but unlike New York people looked at me kindly with but one exception, at the end, when a young blonde and blue eyed bigot stuck his face near mine and jeered some Chinese sounding noises at me. At the time I was singing Let it Be, so I did.
Now it’s hard to gauge just how strained one’s singing to adjust to the noise of the passersby, because you just sing at about the same level to your own ear’s and it’s only after many songs that you realize that you’re pushing it. It’s incredible how much sound shoes make on pavement, and when you make that hundreds of shoes in contest to a lone guitar and voice it’s definitely a battle. So after an hour I called it quits and walked down the way, where I saw a spindly tall amateur fiddler playing with horrible posture in the center of the tunnel. I watched him a moment and he invited me to jam with him, so I did. We swapped after a Bm/Dmaj jig and I played a bit of Gm improv while he strummed the two chords he knew – Em and G on the capo I affixed to the third fret (thus making it Gm and B-flat.) We played about half an hour and he graciously portioned me half our earnings from that time. I gave him my card and mobile as we parted as he had a printed sign in his case reading clip art “Busk Around the World” which he’d yet to begin and I felt keen to give him some advice. I think I have a lot of that to give.
Before leaving Hawai’i I contacted one Russell Neal, who happens to manage the entire singer/songwriter scene in the city single handedly. He invited me to play that Monday night at a pub called Kelly’s on King in nearby Newtown, so I walked there in the light rain. What a fun night! The other acts spoke very friendly to me and each other, and while the talent level wasn’t astonishing, I very much enjoyed the coziness, and the community feel. A nervous Massimo sang a few tunes, first, followed by Chris from Central Coast, Niall from Ireland, myself, and then an absolutely fabulous guitarist Ande who looked a doppelganger of my host and friend Pontus from Stockholm. Midway through my act my cousin dropped in, and as the act following Ande sounded horrid (Hugo) we then took our leave. I left my card and sold a CD to this Ande, too, and I’m still hoping we might play together before quit the city.
Earnings: 27.00 AUD, 2 hours
Song of the Day: Squirrel Song – Terrence Ho