Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A month of Sydneys

I don't normally celebrate New Year, which gets the same attention from me as my birthday, Christmas and Ramadan. Despite spending my last three December 31sts in capital cities where they don't let the arbitrary turning of the Gregorian calendar pass by unnoticed (Edinburgh, Taipei, Seoul), I preferred to spend those pivotal hours like any other: on my computer, avoiding contact with revellers or just being asleep.

But when I ended up spending this New Year in Sydney, and was invited to see in the New Year from the best vantage point in the city and enjoy several hours of drinking in the park, sleeping through the event this time seemed a little disrespectful. And anyway, this might be most easterly (and earliest) New Year I'll ever have, which, combined with the equally redundant time zone system and the end of my month in Sydney, somehow resulted in a night worth celebrating. Happy Early New Year!

Oh yeah, I'm in Australia. Didn't I mention that? I should probably backtrack a little...

Day 1

I landed in Sydney on December 1st feeling surprisingly jet-lagged, considering I only lost four hours from Thailand. It was probably something to do with those restless kids in the row next to me combined with a feeling of excitement about seeing a new part of the world that I haven't really felt since Japan that meant I didn't get much sleep.

I'd been a little worried that immigration would question me about my dwindling passport pages or travel plans (I'd even forged an onward flight confirmation to New Zealand just in case), but the guy seemed pretty bored and just whacked the stamp in the first page he opened. These airport experiences are often a useful forecast for what I can expect in a country, so I looked forward to a laid-back, lazy and slightly boring couple of months. That'd suit me fine.

A helpful moustachioed guy (I don't know if this was a relic of Movember or he was just ace) advised me on the cheapest way to get to Kings Cross, where I'd be spending another largely sleepless night in a squat/hostel. It's been a while - I haven't shared a room since Fukuoka in March - but it was worth it to experience an amusingly sleazy neighbourhood I wasn't planning on returning to.

Day 2

On Sunday I reunited with the charismatic Oliver, who doesn't need a gimmick like Movember to grow ridiculous facial hair, and who gave me a walking tour of central Sydney on a nostalgically cloudy summer's day. We hardly got lost at all. It was still strange to see white people doing jobs rather than just lying around drinking, but fortunately there were plenty of Asians taking photos, so I still felt at home. People are too tall here, how am I going to bump my head on stuff if it's designed for my height?

Those clouds unfortunately wouldn't last.
I really did choose the least best time for a break from the Asian heat

In the evening I took the ferry to Manly and Haylie took over responsibility for my wellbeing. I'd get back to being independent after this, but it was nice to experience what it might be like to be disabled and have carers for a day. Haylie and Murray kindly offered their spare room (actually I had an entire floor, plus shared access to an excitable dachshund - life is good), where I could stay for the month and reprise the role of the reclusive flatmate who you're not entirely sure isn't dead or a serial killer, which I got so good at in Edinburgh. It all came flooding back. The faces.

Week 1

Phoebe: if draught excluders could bark

I picked up a transport pass (alright, Haylie got it for me, but then I was independent again, definitely) and made sure I got my money's worth out of it by travelling extensively in Zone 1, until Sydney city centre became as tediously familiar as Singapore and other cities I've spent a little too long in out of necessity or laziness.

My replacement passport form was slowly filled in one section as a time as I waited for time-lagged emails from my parents containing important details I should have obtained in advance, and which it turned out I didn't even need. I finally handed over the documents to Australia Post on Friday, only to be told the passport photos I'd done on the cheap in Thailand were the wrong size, so the staff quickly snapped a new one:

Now, I've always maintained that I prefer surprise photos to posed ones as they're more authentic, and that less preparation results in a better photo, but this is surely the evidence against that. The photo was taken the day after I walked ten kilometres along the coast without a hat or sun cream and got pretty toasty, and it's the face (and nose) I'll have to show in my passport for the next TEN YEARS! I guess that's more incentive to travel frequently and use up all those pages fast. Why did I opt for the bumper size passport?

For comparison, here's my 2010 passport photo:

I hoped travelling might change me, but I didn't expect to change race.

Week 2

I upgraded to a Zone 3 transport pass and breached the city limits to wander around the national parks (proper blogs are coming after this round-up). These are usually my favourite places in countries, and each time I visit the great outdoors I wonder why I don't spend all my time there. So that's basically what I did when I forked out for the more expensive multi-pass and made sure I damn well got my money's worth during these seven days, regardless of whether I'd had enough sleep or whether the calluses had healed. I wasn't planning on using my feet next week, it'd be fine.

Spending so much time in nature was the perfect antidote to city tedium but not such a great antidote to my sunburn. If anything it exacerbated things, so Dave caved in and bought sun cream and a hat with a brim wide enough to cover my prominent hooter without veering into midlife crisis cowboy territory. Better to look knowingly daft than to be perceived as trying to look good.

Week 3

Faced with a whopping tax bill due in January, I took this week off day trips to save money and explore Suburbia. I'll have to explore more of rural Australia in January, because living in Sydney doesn't feel all that different to the life I left behind. Apart from the many small differences and the big ones like the December summer heat, my unpleasantly peeling skin and Australia being literally as far away as you can get without rocket fuel, it sometimes feels a lot like I've just moved to another UK city, especially in comparison to the other countries I've been to.

Except we don't have him

That's a little disappointing, but at least it is somewhere new, so I don't have the full anticlimax and subsequent depression that I'd feel landing back in the UK. Singapore and Hong Kong came close to convincing me before, but however British they were, they were always more Chinese. People who say they spent a year travelling because they worked in Sydney or some other English-speaking city run by white people didn't really spend a year travelling, they just took a plane somewhere and carried on. I do feel very comfortable here, but maybe too comfortable. I am an idiot.

My new passport arrived and I went to an office Christmas party to enjoy free drinks and food, even though I don't work in an office. No one seemed to notice.

One of my silly colleagues

Week 4

Phoebe took Haylie and Murray away on a festive break and I had the house to myself, so I jumped at the chance to throw wild drug orgies do lots of work and watch Peep Show. I haven't paid attention to Christmas for a few years, and if I didn't feel the Christmas spirit in snowy South Korea last year, the nose-grilling Sydney sunshine wasn't going to rekindle my Yuletide nostalgia.

Nor would things like this

At least it rained on Christmas Day, so I could get some miserly satisfaction from knowing thousands of people's barbecues and beach parties were being ruined. Ha ha, humbug! I'm going to die alone, so I need to get my laughs where I can.

Week 5

Unfortunately, I couldn't keep the curmudgeon act up for another week, and joined Oliver & Company for Hogmanay binge drinking in the Botanical Gardens. I thought that celebrating New Year in GMT+11 would mean it'd all be wrapped up by mid-afternoon and we could go home, but somehow it doesn't work like that.

Happy New Year! Don't be a dick.


  1. What! I didn't believe James when he said you were in ruddy Australia. I should read your blog more often!

    James says he wants to go to Australia too, but I don't really fancy it. I told him that he can go when we start having babies, and I'll just stay here in lovely Europe and raise our children properly while he fannies about drinking goon on the beach.

    1. I'm not so into it really, not being a beach person. But it's been very nice as a break from Asia, I love being able to walk around without people gawping at me with open mouths and dollar signs in their eyes (or baht and other local currencies). I step off a bus and my path isn't blocked by a swarm of competing taxi drivers trying to take me to brothels, this is paradise.

  2. Replies
    1. Yeah, I spent four weeks in Java and Bali in 2011 and I'm planning on going back again some time soon. The volcanoes are ace!