Hillsong Conference 2012, Sydney and Melbourne

Scoot is a fun and well-branded airline. Their colour schemes are well coordinated, and their in-flight announcements add spice words like “scoot off” instead of “take off”. With the new seats and ample leg space (two fists) it’s one of the best budget flights I’ve ever taken. Upon exiting the Sydney airport, we were greeted with a breathtaking 15-degree cool breeze with sunshine and an empty taxi queue. Taxi to our Y Hotel City South costs about $30, pretty ex compared to Singapore. I thought I would adapt quickly to the weather, but for some reason my body kept having a runny nose and a slight feverish feeling for the first few days. Not a good start.

Day 1: Hello Sydney, Darling Harbour

After checking in at our hotel, our first meal was Chinese food (lol) near Central. Then, we explored the peaceful Darling Harbour, and took a ferry from there to Circular Quay (which is included in the mymulti transport pass) . The ferry brought us under the harbour bridge and the opera house, and it felt like we seen everything in Sydney already. Haha. We took a train back to Central, and this began the fun of trainspotting: the double deck metro trains comes in different ages and varieties, and the new ones were pretty sleek. We also found out later that the seats are reversible: you can switch the back rest in order to face the correct direction that the train is travelling at. Pretty cool. We switched to a tram/light rail, which is quite similar to the San Jose light rail system, to Glebe. We met some Burpplers at Flying Fajitas, Mexican food, yum yum! After dinner, we visited a shopping mall called Broadway, of which many shops are already closed at 9pm, typical for an Australian place as everything usually closes at 7pm. The only shops open were the cineplex, Coles supermarket, K-mart and Target. The big 3 of marts here, similar to America.

Day 2: Bourke St, Hillsong (City)

The second day we slept in as we didn’t have enough sleep on the flight. We went to Crown St, Surry Hills for brunch at a small local cafe. Good old Eggs Benedict! Australian style is smaller portion than American but the quality is pretty awesome. Also, the price of food generally is $10-15 everywhere, even fast food and Chinese food costs at least $8. This is because Australians have a higher minimal wage of $12, and I heard those people at McDonald’s earn $30 an hour! After that we went to Bourke St where Dixon says has the best coffee at the bakery, and they have really awesome strawberry creme brulee. We then walked to the Entertainment Quarters to search for a farmer’s mrket, but upon arrival the shops were already closing and it was very small. As we had still some time, we decided to take a walk through Darlinghurst, thru King’s Cross and Pott’s point, checking out cafes along the way. We then took a bus to Waterloo for dinner at a Thai place, before walking to Hillsong Church city campus!

It was really crowded as the previous service just ended, and we had to squeeze our way in and sat at back. There were also some NCCers who were around as well, not a small world after all. The worship was really good, with Ben Fielding and Jill, and they sang many new songs from the new album. To our delight and surprise, Louie Giglio was the guest speaker. He spoke about Clarity and Courage about God’s purpose in our lives, and what to expect from the conference, of which the second I really need now. After the service, we grabbed our Cornerstone CDs and stuff at the bookstore, and took the free shuttle bus back to central.

Day 3: Fish Market, Hillsong Conference Day 1

We walked to the Sydney Fish Market for brunch, bought some cheap sashimi salmon and seafood platters. The bad thing about Australia is that tomato sauce or any sauce is charged from 30 cents to a dollar. Kinda ridiculous coming from a country where chilli sauce must be free flow. And yes, we saw again many New Creationers as well…there are more than 300 of us roaming around the city and bringing God’s blessing wherever we go! After brunch, we took a tram to Chinatown to explore a bit, before taking the train from Central to Olympic Park via Lidcombe for the conference. Al excitied, we arrived pretty early before 4pm while the doors only open st 5pm. As we were with the huge NCC group, we were allocated black bands Club level sitting, which is exclusively for huge groups and has ready access (without queuing with the rest of the crowd downstairs) and a pretty good view as well (above the lower terrace) .

It felt a little surreal to be here, when the rest of my friends will be attending commencement on Friday. We entered the allophones arena and soaked in the atmosphere. The stage is creatively placed in the middle, in a hexagonal symmetrical shape. Who says the stage must always be st the end? The LED screens above are oddly square instead of the usual widescreen. But they still look good. The secret cool stuff was that the boards can be brought higher or lower on demand, and there is another layer of vertical LED boards which are semi-transparent, and they lower down to be used as secondary screens for the cameras to focus worship leaders. Together with the lights, it is a very modern awesome experience.

The opening was slightly Gothic and abstract, but worship started with a blast. The second song, I Will Rise, was a little hard to catch initially, but will definitely become an anthem for us as it is so grace-inspired. And of course, the title track, cornerstone. They even used the coldplay-style lyrics on full screen to prompt the audience to sing at the end. It was also really exciting to see Brooke Fraser on stage. She led None But Jesus which was really really good. Her rendition of I Will Rise is the best too. The first sermon was by our very own pastor Prince, who received enormous cheers from the NCC contingent of course, after which we became the biggest well known cheering crowd. The extended worship segment after the segment was by Matt Redman, and this is the first time I’m hearing him live. Pretty awesome to sing 10,000 reasons which is playing everyday on USA radio.

Day 4: Hillsong Conference Day 2

The second day we woke up at 7am, which apparently is not early enough and set the pattern for the next few days. I always wake up the earliest, and it takes a while for my roommates to get ready. We only set off at 8.10am, hence there isn’t enough time to buy breakfast and catch the 8.43am train as the Central station is about 1km from our hotel. As it happens, we always catch the next train which causes us to be late at the conference for 5min and missing the first fast song. Hah. The second day morning speaker was Steven Furtick, whom I never heard of. He’s really young and he spoke about ‘You’re never really ready’ which was pretty dynamic. The combined session with Brian Houston was slightly boring. After a quick dabao lunch, we went for our stream sessions. My first one was with TV and Media, which they shared about storytelling. It was not too bad but the afternoon fatigue caused me to fall asleep. After which we went to Creative Leadership, in which we could see Marty Sampson again, and he explained why he was away. Haha. We went to a restaurant nearby, Hithai, for dinner, and the coconut rice is amazing. It is more fragrant than our Nasi Lemak!

The night session by Joyce Meyer was so-so, but the more exciting part was the worship with Israel Houghton, Darlene Zschech and Sidney Mohede! It is like a stage of world class music leaders. Israel led most of his fast songs, his new song Presence, and the cool thing was Sidney co-led in some of them by singing the second verse and bridge. He started with Jesus be the centre and everyone cheered. Darlene also led some songs like Your Name and Cry of the Broken, and Tulele was on stage too. It was the most awesome worship night.

Day 5: Hillsong Conference Day 3

Wednesday is a shorter day, as they scheduled the night rally earlier at 4pm instead of 6pm for people to watch the rugby match. After worship, they got some of the americans like Judah Smith and Carl Lentz to sing the Star Spangled Banner as it was July 4th. Judah Smith was like passing the microphone around lol. Joyce Meyer was on in the morning, there seem to be less people in attendance, and it was more of her talking about her testimony on forgiveness. We decided to skip the common session so that we could have some rest and a proper lunch. We took a train to Lidcombe and found out that it is a little Korea/Asian town, very interesting. We ate some cheap kebab and had some coffee. In the afternoon, we attended a creative team night, which is similar to the one I attended in HillsongNYC. I thought they would do a funky ukulele led worship again, but it was a normal acoustic band led by Dean Usher. The sharing was pretty good. JD said something along the lines of “You are not just a filmmaker. You are a lover of Jesus who happens to be a great filmmaker”. That struck a chord in my life. After the session, we managed to take photos with JD and Ben Fielding. Wooho. During the pre-service tor the night session, they got the whole Singapore contingent to sing our National Anthem as part of “celebrating the global cultures”. Lol. I was on the screen as I was standing in front of the flag. Lol. It was hilarious. My friend realised we were blocking the flag and we squat down halfway through. Haha.

The night session was a really awesome one by Louie Giglio, as he expounded on the intriguing sounds made by the universe, and how all the stars, whales and creation are worshipping God in a symphony that can be mashed up on an iPad that sounds like How Great Is Our God. It was truly breathtaking and amazing.

That night, we had a special reception with all the NCCers. I was wondering how they would serve food for 300 over people. In the end it was just drinks and small bites. The room was really crowded and everyone was waiting for Pastor Prince to appear. Lol. Donna Crouch came and say a few words and prayed for our church. Finally in the end, Ps Prince came in (with lots of papparazi haha) and he said a few words. One of the announcements was that Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin will be coming our church in the near future! Pretty awesome news as previously we spotted him sitting beside Louie in the audience. Hahaha. He also said he would be going back earlier to preach. (Later we were told to show the same support Steven Furtick on the closing night, maybe pastor was supposed to close but he had to go back early.) We went back to central area to eat dinner at some ramen place before going back to hotel.

And so, we decided to go Melbourne last minute as the flight by Tiger was not expensive. Thus I was booking the flight online via my tablet but the page UI design is not too good and hence I ended up choosing one day earlier. We tried to call to change but they refused and wanted to charge us. So no choice I guess. (On hindsight, the customer may not be always right. In any case, we didn’t regret going Melbourne longer after all.)

Day 6: Hillsong Conference Day 4

The morning started off with another Pastor Prince trademark sermons, and then we went Lidcombe to eat Pho, which was surprisingly crowded. After lunch, I attended another TV and Media session, in which they shared about their production inspiration and gave us a free thumbdrive loaded with stock videos! Awesome. After that, we attended another creative leadership session in which Shelly Giglio shared about Trusting God even when the circumstances are bad, and shared about her back story of passion city church. It was quite a touching story. It was also cool for Louie to be there, to be real, and answer some Q&A. For dinner, it was drizzling and we ate at Hithai again. My friend Chris joined us for the night session with Joyce Meyer. The best part of the night was when Chris Tomlin led worship. He finally sang Our God is Greater which has been sang a dozen tines by Hillsong, Darlene and Matt the part few days. He also led White Flag, Amazing Grace, and of course, How Great Is Our God, with a new anthemy mix. There was also an acoustic version of Indescribable, which is wow to sing after listening to Louie’s sermon.

Day 7: Hillsong Conference Day 5

Time flies and it is the last day of the conference. Certainly the best for last, Louie Giglio did an awesome sermon on Grace (mentioning Ps Prince which everyone cheered), linked it to his earlier Symphony sermon, and linked it to Jesus being the cornerstone of the church, of your life. You do not need to lift the weight of the world on your shoulders because he has already done so. His grace endures forever. The combined session was also pretty cool, with all the young pastors, Judah Smith, Rich Wilkerson Jr, Carl Lentz and a few others preached a short mini-sermon, before there was a Q&A with Brian Houston. It was really cool and dynamic, and Carl Lentz said something about Singapore and everyone cheered. Lol. In the afternoon, we attended a creative worship session in which Louie, Chris and Matt shared about some of their backstory behind the songs “I Lift Up My Hands” and “White Flag”, and how songs are as good as preaching. It was really a fruitful session listening to their real daily lives transforming into a song. The second session, we took a peep at Judah Smith and Carl Lentz sharing about youth ministry, before we decided to head to Lidcombe to eat Korean for dinner. The last night was fantastic. I sat right at the top with Chris, with a bird’s eye view of the whole stadium. It looks a bit scary actually because it is so high. Brooke Fraser and Chris Tomlin led worship. Steven Furtick closed the session, often by using the cards of Singapore/grace/etc. to get cheers from us. It was funny. The closing worship moment was when the music stopped for I Surrender’s chorus, and everyone kept on singing like a huge choir without the band. It was a God-encountering moment. The Running song got all the JAMs kids running around the stage in circles, and people in the balcony running around the stairs. That was funny. And the encore song was Your Name High when everyone started woahhh. Too bad they had to end promptly at 9.30pm just like the other nights as they have to tear down immediately. Not enough time to linger in worship.

Day 8: Paddington

We had breakfast at Cafe Gulia, one of the top recommended places, and the salmon breakfast special was pretty good. We took a bus to Paddington Markets, where there are many small stores selling various food, accessories and fashion. Like a mini bugis kinda place but with more exotic stuff. We walked down the Oxford street of shops to the Winery, where we met two Burpplers and drank some nice red wine. Got me a little dizzy. After that we walked to town to eat at Chat Thai, one of the top Thai places. We had to wait for more than an hour! It is interesting that the Thai food here is sometimes better than Singapore’s.

Day 9: Blue Mountains, Hillsong (Hills)

So we had to wake up early to go to the Blue Mountains today as today was the only possible day as we are flying to Melbourne on Tuesday. This also means that we might miss church depending on how long we spend at Blue Mountains. I asked God, if time permits, let us visit Hillsong Hills campus, otherwise it is okay to go city campus again. This means that we only have 5 hours at the mountains. We took the 7.18am two-hour artisitic railroad ride up to Katoomba, had breakfast and coffee at this nice place called Blue Hour. I also found out that the MyMulti ticket allows you to take the public bus / express trolley, hence can save money on buying the $25-35 tourist bus! Secret tip! We walked to Echo Point as we missed the bus and the weather was nice anyway. Following the wikitravel guide, we took photos of the 3 sisters, then walked down the Giant Stairway 900 steps down. Reminds me of Kinabalu. After that it was a leisurely 2.5km hike thru the forest, some waterfall, which reminds us of the unceasing fruitfulness, and to the foot of the cablecar. Then we had to pay $11 to go up which is a rip-off as the ride was like 5 minutes? The whole experience took us about 2.5 hours. It was 1.30pm, praise God, there’s enough time to go Hills Campus! We grabbed some fish and chips before taking the 2.26pm train to Parramatta, where we could ride a Hillsong shuttle to hills campus. The bus was packed and they had to reject some people. It took like 30 mins from the station to church, which is really far! Along the way, some of the other visitors found out that we are from New Creation, and asked if we really practice what we preach – grace in our church, which we proudly answered yes, as we serve out of rest as one of our core values. And they were blown away by that and they couldn’t believe that we are building a building.

Stepping into the auditorium is like a dream come true, and also slightly of a deja Vu as there are a few church auditoriums designed similarly to this. JD and Brooke led worship, and Brooke led a special acoustic version of Indescribable and Greater than all which are pretty great. The sermon was by Steven Furtick which was so-so. We saw on a livestream monitor that Judah Smith is preaching at city campus. Aiya, wasted. Haha. But it is cool to see how they run church, with coffee and BBQ outside after service. There was also the Hillsong Kids mascots. Haha. Again, we met some NCCers on the bus and in the service. After that, we went back to Chinatown to eat Ramen Kan.

Day 10: Fishburners.

We started off the day with another popular place called Bills where they had the best scrambled eggs in town. We then took a walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Opera House, and the sunshine was really nice like California. We then took a bus to fishburners, a startup incubator space to meet some people. The space is huge and is in a old building, nicer than Blk 71. For dinner, we went to another recommended place: El Loco for $5 tacos. It was not bad, although the portion was a little small. California and Pittsburgh had better ones. After dinner, we had taiwanese taro balls dessert at meetfresh, which seems really popular with all the Asians. So crowded.

After that, we went back to the hotel to collect luggage and took cab to the airport. After finding a small corner at the domestic terminal, we were told to leave as the terminal closes from 11am to 4am. What?! So lousy. The security guy suggested we go to a McDonalds nearby. The international terminal is too far away and you need to take a bus or train or cab there. So we reluctantly walked towards McDonalds with our luggage about 800m away, saw a hotel formule 1 and tried our luck at the lobby but the receptionist said no. We went to McDonalds and fortunately it is 24 hours and they have some nice booth seats. We slept for a bit before the cleaner woke us up at 4am. Haha. We walked back to the airport and finally checked in.

Day 11: Hello Melbourne and food!

We arrived at a very cui shed terminal with no aerobridges and just a shelter for the baggage claim with no heater. Lol. The cab to Melbourne city id more expensive at $50. But our hotel formule 1 location was really good as it is right smack in the middle of the city near the Flinders St station. The first day in Melbourne we fell in love with the city’s charm. The trams are fun to watch and spot, and the alleys are full of surprises. Especially after playing Cities in Motion, it is cool to see the old and new sleek trams, more variety than SF. There is a huge cafe culture here, and it is like a silicon valley for coffee because the coffee is good everywhere, seriously! It’s like you don’t think Starbucks is that great after all. There is an amazing food culture as well as there is a huge selection of international food from Italian to Vietnamese to Thai. Singapore is not so great a food capital after all. But of course, food is expensive here still. There’s a lot of bubble tea here too, like Chatime and Easy Way.

We had breakfast at a small cafe called Fucagaza at an alley behind our hotel. We checked in and then walked around the shopping streets and little streets. My friend wanted to shop so we walked along olthe Yarra River to DFO. Guess what, we saw NCCers again! The weather is slightly colder and much more dull and less sunlight. After that, we took the free city tram to Lygon St to eat Ying Thai 2. And guess what, there is a Killiney Kopitiam franchised by Indonesians here! We talked to them a bit, very cool, just that Kopi costs $2.90 hah. Nasi Lemak costs $8. Still quite crowded for a weekday night. Ying Thai food is awesome, better than Chat Thai. My friend yt popped by and we went to eat gelato along the stretch of Italian shops. Too bad the durian one is closed.

Day 12: Manchester Press, Inspire9

In the morning, I met Selene for brunch at Manchester Press, a nice warehouse place. And at the right place at the right time, a huge group of NCCers appeared. Lol. And then later, by God-incidence, Cclia came and supposed to join them, but she joined us instead. We had a nice salmon baked eggs and coffee which the barista will attempt to draw your face on the foam. Simply hilarious. It was nice to catch up with them.

After that I went to meet Elisha and Dixon, and we walked to York Butter Factory, a startup space right in town. They used an old abandoned factory, and the brick walls are really cool. And they have a real coffee machine! We attempted to make our own but not very successful. We hope our office can have one! After that, we took their metro train to Richmond. Southern Cross train station is another amazing train station like Sydney’s central. At Richmond, we went to another small cafe called Espresso, where I had a nice milkshake, before we went to inpsire9 to visit yet another startup space. One of the persons we met brought us to Footscray to eat some of the best pho in town. Footscray is like a little Vietnam, where a lot of the refugees settled here. In the night, we visited Dixon’s friend’s church band practice at this cross culture church. Interestingly, the auditorium is underground the ancient chapel, and everyone is Asian. Haha.

Day 13: Queen Victoria Market, ACMI

In the morning, tried Brother Baba Budan which is owned by Seven Seeds, one of the best coffee here. Met yt and she brought us around Victoria market. It’s like a giant wet and dry market with hawkers and fashion stalls. We ate some Turkish borek and pies which were really cheap and good. There was also a Spanish churros and American doughnuts food trucks, and lots of fruits being sold. We ate lunch at Hardware Societe, missed the breakfast menu but the pork belly is really juicy and good. The hot chocolate is amazing too, as they had a real piece of chocolate in it.

After lunch, yt brought me around her hostel and University of Melbourne. It is quite a nice campus with a mix of old and new buildings. It has some Victorian charm to it, with some buildings looking like out of Hogwarts. There is even the School of Botany with all sorts of creepers and vines all around it. It started raining as I walked to Chinatown. I hid at the State Library of Victoria, and there was a nice huge reading room. Ate dinner myself at Mamasitas as my other two friends were meeting their own friends as well. I ordered Tosadas but it ended up being 4 bite sized chips with stuff on top. A bit overpriced but the place was packed. After dinner, I went to visit the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) museum, which has a Game Masters exhibition going on. Well I thought it is related to my area of study, so decided to pay for it and take a look. Lotsa games featured, from Pacman to Sonic to Warcraft to Dance Central to Angry Birds. A nice history of everything but I was too sleepy to read everything. Worth the $17? Maybe, since I spent 3 hours there.

Day 14: Proud Mary, Circus Oz

I slept in as my friends went for meeting today. Tried pie face for breakfast, not too bad. My friend’s friend drove us to Proud Mary, another popular cafe but outside the city. The coffee is good and the potato hash I ate is pretty awesome. We met some other startup guys at the library and then we decided to walk to the Shrine of Remembrance. It is a greek-mayan inspires monument built to remember the soldiers in war. Huge, grand and spiritual, with an underground crypt and a balcony. One of the startup people joined us for dinner as we ate at an Indian fast food. After dinner, we went to watch Circus Oz, which is Australian’s own circus. Unfortunately it was quite disappointing. The first half were quite boring as the stunts were not that fascinating. The second half was slightly better but definitely not worth the $40 spent. Not as good as Cirque de Soliel kind. Haha. Oh well, that’s for Melbourne nightlife.

Day 15: Great Ocean Road

On the last day, we decided to rent a car and drive down Great Ocean Road, similar to California’s highway 1. We ate breakfast at Journal, poached egg with ham and cheese sandwich. Yum. The Thrifty car rental guy was trying to convince me to get the full insurance when we wanted only the standard. We got a pretty new Ford Fiesta sedan, at a price similar to our cab ride. Haha. The weather threathened to have thunderstorms, and on the way there it was pretty cloudy. We set off finally at 11am (although we woke up at 7am) and drove for 2.5 hours to reach Apollo Bay and had a late lunch there. The fish and chips at the Apollo Bay seafood cafe was really really good. The road was pretty winding and hence quite dizzy. The ocean is nice of course, and reminds me of Big Sur, if only it was less cloudy. There were lotsa sheep and cows along the way, with many teletubbies-style rolling hills. Some parts were drizzling but it wasn’t too bad. There was one part I drove and it was really misty. There was also this campervan in front which hogged the road with 7 cars behind, and didn’t allow us to overtake, until there was a full straight stretch.

At about 1.5 hours later, at about 4.30pm, we finally reached the twelve apostles. The sun was just setting and if the clouds are not there it will be a magnificent sight. Still, it was picturesque and beautiful, although now probably only 6 or 7 apostles left. Lol. We drove further to Loch Arc Gorge and tried to drive further to London Bridge but it started to get too dark. We got out of the car and it started to become super windy and started pouring. We were slightly drenched and decided it’s time to go back.

Drove 2.5 hours back to Geelong via Princess Highway where we had dinner. It seems like the suburbia here is very similar to the states, huge hypermarts in the outskirts like Harvey Norman (instead of Best Buy), Coles and Kmart. Even the signs and architecture of the supermarts look similar. And then there’s a quiet downtown where nobody goes. We managed to find a Japanese place and had some hotpot lol.

Drove another hour to one of the friends whom we just met and he kindly hosted us for a few hours before we had to go to the airport. The townhouse is really nice and new and cosy and with IKEA furnishings. We thought we are sleeping on the floor, but he was very hospitable and prepared beds for us and even towels. Can be airbnb le. We slept for like less than 4 hours before we had to wake up at 3.30am to go to the airport before 5am. Fortunately we could return the car to the airport which is pretty closeby and very convenient. As expected, the Tiger departure area I pretty lousy, so we decided to have breakfast at Sydney instead. Sydney airport also very lousy, the domestic and international terminals are not connected and we had to take a cab there. And finally, we are on our way home.

What a fruitful trip! Unceasing fruitfulness!