Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sydney, Australia

Today is my first time to set foot in Australia, the country and the continent. I am here to attend the 4th Pacific Rim Policy Exchange that will start tonight and proceed for the next two days. The event is jointly sponsored by the Americans for Tax Reforms (ATR), Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Heartland Institute (these 3 are US-based) and the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA-Australia).

Travel time from Manila to Brisbane (brief stop over) is about 6:45 hours. Brisbane to Sydney is about 1:20 hour. Australia’s immigration procedure is very quick and efficient, the officers never ask what’s my purpose in going to Australia, they just looked at my passport, Australian visa, and the immigration/customns report card, and I was done in about 2 minutes starting from queuing.

It’s Australia’s customs and quarantine that is very strict. From the start of queuing until I got out, probably 25 to 30 minutes. I already indicated in the immigration/customs report card that I did not bring any cigarette, alcoholic drinks, other commercial items, but still they ask verbally if I have cigarettes in my luggage, what’s inside, I said clothes and books. Then the last part, all bags – except cameras and laptops – have to pass through an X-ray machine again to see any prohibited items. The prohibited items are long – not guns, ammo or bombs – but fresh flowers, fruits, insects, hidden pets, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, etc. Then there are also items that you may bring in but you have to declare to the quarantine – like surf boards, scuba diving gears, etc.

The trains are efficient. I took the double deck city train, looks old but fast. From international airport to St. James station is about 18 minutes, fare is A$14. From St. James station, our hotel, Sheraton on the Park, is only about 50 meters walk. Nice location of the hotel, it’s in front of the huge Hyde Park.

I toured the park along with fellow conference participants from Lahore, Pakistan, Khalil Ahmad (Alternate Solutions Institute) and Jose Tapia from Lima, Peru (ILE, Institute for Free Enterprise). From the park, to Sydney botanical garden, to Sydney opera house, back to the CBD and back to the hotel. We passed by McDonald's for a late lunch. Sydney is indeed expensive judging from their McDo price compared to McDo in Manila and other Asian cities.

Ok, the opening cocktails should start in a few minutes, gotta go. Will meet more friends from other countries, and especially the conference organizers.