07.07.2010 - 07.07.2010 15 °C
We wake up to yet more rain but decided to brave it anyway - we have long put off visiting Chinatown and apparently there is also a lovely Oriental garden just behind Darling Harbour. At the moment Darling Harbour is still a maze of advertising and fences as the FiFA World Cup Fan Fest is still going on (including a floating 5-a-side pitch) but some of the signs and paths are still visible and after a confused five minutes we manage to find some signposts towards the Chinese Garden Of Friendship and arrive at the main entrance flanked by Fu dogs and framed in traditional pavilion-style.
It is $6 in and $11 if we want tea and Dim Sum in the teahouse within the Garden - it sounds nice so we pay up and set off into the serene winding paths and walkways. Built to symbolise the close friendship between China and Australia in 1999 it houses numerous pavilions, symbolic paths and lucky plants and is a joy to explore over the course of an hour or so, despite the pouring rain. My favourite gardens are always Oriental as they are just as calming come rain, shine or even the weak thunder that passes overhead. At the end is the teahouse and we refuel on steamed dumplings and tea white watching the koi flirt with the surface of the lake.
Chinatown is only a minute or so's walk from the garden and comprises two or three streets and a few micro malls full of cheap clothes, shoes, jewellery, souvenirs, Chinese goods and home decorations, manga and of course restaurants. Our appetites have been whetted by the Dim Sum so we chow down on Chinese, which is a disappointment after Hong Kong but passable. I also buy a small tea set, something I have been wanting to do for a long while. Fred aliases the time - if we don't hurry we will be late for our rugby date, so we motor back home for a quick stop to dump bags and shopping and get scarves and hats, then head for Circular Quay train station.
We are off to see the third game in the State of Origin series, held at Olympic Park. State of Origin is a three-game rugby league tournament played every year by Queensland and New South Wales. It is a very popular event every year, getting large attendances, full TV coverage and lots of fights (on the pitch) so we decide we have to give it a go - competitive sport makes up a large part of Australia's national mentality.
The train system in Sydney is so bad I find myself longing for the Underground. Nothing is signposted, the machines only give change up to $20 and don't like cards with pin numbers, there is no booth with a human in it to ask for tickets or directions and once you've actually managed to get inside, whether by luck or judgement, there are no signs telling you what trains is going where from which platform - you just have to guess. As it turns out, we guess wrong and end up sprinting down and up four sets of stairs, managing to catch the first train to Central Station, the biggest in Sydney and hopefully better organized.
Our hopes are dashed, however, when we reach Central. There are a lot of people going to the Origin game but none of them seem to be able to work out the train system - even many of the natives who have been before are confused. Finally we get out and spot signs for the direct trains to Olympic Park, thank the Lord, because it's bananas in here. Our match ticket includes this train fare from Central to the Olympic Park so the train is packed with fans, both Maroon (Queensland) and Blue (New South Wales). There is a lot of banter flying around-
"QUEENSLANDAAAAA!" Shouts a Blues fan at a gentleman in a Maroon shirt taking a photo of his companions.
"They're blue on the inside, just in case..."
The forty-minute train journey is bubbling with anticipation and testosterone. As we disembark and the leave the train we spot the huhge ANZ Stadium and have a remarkable sense of deja vu.
"Looks an awful lot like City."
In point of fact it looks almost identical to Manchester City's ground, all the way down to the strange spiral staircases on the outside and the blue lights. We buy a scarf to get in the spirit and take our seats in the gigantic stadium to watch the last ten minutes of the Residents game, and the first mass punch-up. It is about 7pm and the festivities have been going since half five.
The game is due to kick off at 8pm and we sit through the pre-match advertising (there is a man with a large remote controlled blimp) and interviews before standing for the national anthem of Australia which is sung in English and the language of the Eora aborigine people. This prompts some subversive muttering from behind us which. We also have a moment's silence for the three Australian servicemen killed in Afghanistan last month - some idiot is still shouting "Queenslander!" throughout. He achieves nothing apart from the whole stadium realising that such twits do exist, and appears to be bundled halfway through by some other fans in order to shut him up.
The game begins and doesn't disappoint - there is lots of good rugby, some bad rugby and a few fights. The fans are lively, singing, stamping and occasionally yelling things like "OWNED!" when one player flattens another. The only moment that was very close to ruining the experience came from two men behind us - at the starts of a minor fight involving an aborigine Queensland player there is a shout of "He takes your taxes too, f****** coconut!" Racism in sport appears to be entirely directed at the aborigines and his comment even provokes some laughs but fortunately goes no further as he, too, is told to shut up by some of his fellow fans.
Every time a points are scored huge blasts of flame erupt from either end of the pitch - they really go all out for this tournament. The Blues lose 23-18 and the series is a Maroon wash but it is a great game, 61 thousand people in attendance, despite the series having been decided in the previous match, and even the train going back is quicker and easier.