Anyone who moves to Sydney would know that it’s frequently rated among the world’s most liveable cities. With a year-round average temperature in the low 70s, a stunning natural landscape, world-renowned architecture, a high employment rate and low crime rates, blah blah blah you know the drill. All those things were definitely cool, but other than the [often amazing, but occasionally dreadful] weather few really affected my life on a noticeable daily basis.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit about adjusting to life in Singapore and my thoughts on this place after three months. While I’ve obviously found lots to rave about here, it also got me thinking about what I really miss in Australia. After all, I moved here in such a whirlwind that I barely had time to reflect on my time Down Under. I certainly didn’t give it its proper due in blog form, which seems unjust given that I spent so much time whining about it over the past couple years.
So, without further ado, herewith a surely-incomplete list of things I love/miss about Sydney (followed by things that I definitely don’t):
- Living in Darlo/Paddo
Those are of course short for Darlinghurst and Paddington, the two wonderful (and very different) Eastern suburbs that our apartment bordered. Technically, our apartment was located in Darlinghurst, Paddington and Rushcutters Bay, and we received mail addressed to all three (plus Potts Point). I adored being five minutes down the hill from the cafes, bars, and generally hipster/gay/nightlife scene of Victoria Street in Darlo, while the posh, bougie vibe of Paddington was an 8-minute walk in the other direction. And the Harbour and Ruchcutters Bay Park were five minutes in the other direction.
Our neighborhood was leafy and safe, but still fairly urban by Sydney standards. I mean, Coles stayed open till midnight. Like whoa. Speaking of Darlo and Paddo…
- The Australian propensity to shortening words
Tomo, arvo, avo, ambo, bickie, barbie, coldie, footy, lollie, prezzie, preso, rellies, brolly, sunnies, stubbies, vego, tradies, Tassie, mozzies, and utes. These were among my faves (see? I like shortening stuff too), and just saying them out loud I can’t help but smile a little recalling Aussies’ perma-casualness. The other day my Aussie co-worker used the term “derro” (short for derelict, which I’m not sure he could even define), which is somewhat akin to how I would use the term “ghetto.” Even here in Asia, the learning never stops!
- Fun “neighbourhood” stuff
As aforementioned, it’s hard to find much of a neighborhood feel here in a place where 90% of the population lives in high-rise apartments. Granted, HDB government housing seems to promote that vibe, and some of the shophouse streets are absolutely super-cute, but we expats generally seem to eschew living in those places. Not to mention the most authentic-seeming places all seem to feature little old Chinese men and women, and as a non-Mandarin (or dialect)-speaking Caucasian I’m just not sure I’d ever fit in.In Sydney, on the other hand, each day felt like something out of Mr. Rogers.
Everyone at the cafe across the street knew my name (“G’day Kite!”) and how I took my coffee. The dude at the 7-star who sold overpriced ($12!) Ben & Jerry’s pints would ask how my day had been. The same cute little kids (in bucket hats!) holding their parents’ hands as they walked to Darlo Public School would give us a knowing nod as we passed them each morning on our way to the train. Even the junkies congregated like clockwork each morning in Oporto across from the Kirketon Road Centre . Living in the neighborhood just had a wonderful, pleasant hum to it, and I miss that.
- Getting books out of the Paddington Library
Granted, I only started frequenting the library because books in Australia are retardedly overpriced, but it sort of became my weekend ritual to walk up to Oxford Street and drop off books I’d just finished while picking up one or two others I’d ordered on reserve. I learned to be very strategic with placing reserve orders, and managed to work my way through almost the entire Man Booker Prize 2010 shortlist. Except for the winner (The Finkler Question), because there was like a six month waiting list for that one. Anyway, the one-room library was just another friendly place filled with familiar faces. And it’s one of the few places I ever found with free Wifi. Word to the wise though: they don’t have a restroom. WTF?
- Fitness First Kings Cross
As much as I clearly love food (and I do love it, a lot), I’m equally enthusiastic about exercise. Fortunately they tend to cancel each other out (or perhaps one enables the other). Anyway, I’m definitely a creature of habit when it comes to the gym; I love going to classes because I feel more obligated to go when adhering to someone else’s schedule, not to mention they push me a lot harder than I ever push myself. Over the years I’ve gone to dozens of gyms and taken classes with probably over 100 instructors; suffice it to say I’m very picky. Chris (Body Pump & Body Attack), and spinning instructors Amanda, Jacqui and Brett (“Britt” in his native Kiwi) were among the best instructors I’ve ever had. Each was cheerful, funny, and enthusiastic, and made their class fun while at the same time totally kicking my ass.Brett is so awesome, in fact, that even my co-worker who lives on the North Shore would come along to his classes. We totally laughed our way through with his cheezy catchphrases (selected bon mots: “Turn and burn,” “We ride high, we ride hard, we ride handsome!” and the ever-popular “We are no stranger to danger!”), but he is a fantastic motivator and I was always basically dead afterwards, which is a pretty good indicator of a successful spin class. Every time I go to a spin class here I miss those guys more.Long story short, if you live in the Eastern suburbs (or will be moving to Sydney), Fitness First KX is a great gym to join. Oooh and bonus points because it’s apparently where Hugh Jackman works out when he’s in town. Sadly I never saw him, though I did see an Australian Vogue cover model (who knew they worked out with mortals?), so it must be pretty fabulous.
Come to think of it, everyone exercising pretty much all the time
As I noted when we first arrived, there are basically no fat people in Sydney, and no matter where you go, or what time of day it is, people seem to be out and about exercising. It was inspiring to see throngs of people running through the Botanic Garden during their lunch hours, or to attend 6am surfing lessons at Bondi and see old people swimming clubs mustering.
Of course there are also the super-cute nippers, and the dads playing cricket in the park on Sundays, and surfers braving chilly winter temperatures (and the threat of sharks) to catch the best swells…there is just so much energy and vitality to Sydney (and Australia in general), you can’t help but want to participate.
Beers with work mates
Pretty much every Friday between 4 and 5pm, my boss would come out of his office, stretch his arms, look around, and ask “Beers?” Usually we’d head to one of the pubs nearby, or occasionally someone would pick up some VBs and a bottle of wine up at the bottle–o and we’d just chill out in the office. We also did some pub crawls through the Rocks:
No matter where we drank, it was a nice way to wind down the week, and so contradictory to my working experience in the US, where you usually can’t get out of the office fast enough on a Friday night. Every once in a while I’d find myself out until 10 or 11, just chatting away with a few co-workers, more often than not sitting outside (regardless of what time of year it was). Above all else I think I just totally lucked out and worked with a really great group of fantastic people, but the weekend wind-down culture is definitely way more of a thing in Australia than anywhere else I’ve been.
- How blue the sky gets in Sydney
This never got old. I mean seriously, look at this:
- Certain cable channels & random TV shows
Granted, most people in Australia don’t seem to have Foxtel, and given how overpriced it is (and how woeful their customer service could be) I’d never go so far to say that I miss it, but I certainly do miss having ESPN (even if ESPN Australia showed way too much soccer for my taste and had weak-sauce versions of SportsCenter and PTI). Here we get something called the “All Sports Network” that shows playoff games and apparently shows college football and NFL (if there even is an NFL season, that is), but stuff often isn’t live and overall it’s just kind of ghetto. In Singapore, English Premiership soccer is king; badminton and squash come second, and everything else falls by the wayside.I also miss a few great British real estate shows that I got into on Lifestyle and UKTV, namely Relocation Relocation and Property Ladder. I miss Kirstie and Phil’s good-natured bickering and seeing all those charming English villages with insanely silly names. I will forever be amazed at how Sarah Beeny seems to have been perpetually pregnant for the last six years or so. And how property developers haven’t learned that they’re screwed if they don’t take her advice from the outset. Gripping stuff, I tell you.
- The sound of cockatoos
True, it’s basically a screech and at times sounds like nails on a chalkboard, but I’ll always fondly recall how the cockatoos would fly across our apartment courtyard at dusk. I’d be reading or dozing on the couch as the sky grew pink at sunset, and the cockatoos calling to each other seemed to say, another day is drawing to a close. Not to mention they are just magnificent birds, and the delightful sight of them never wore off for this Northern Hemisphere girl.
- The delightful weirdness of Oxford Street and Kings Cross
I grew up hanging out in Harvard Square on the weekends and spent two years in Berkeley, so I clearly have an appreciation for weird and colorful characters. Between Gay & Lesbian mardi gras, our neighborhood junkies and homeless people, a full spectrum of drag queens, drunken 17 year-old bogans at Kings Cross on the weekends, and shirtless, barefoot backpackers permanently stationed outside campervans in Potts Point, we surely lived in one of the liveliest and most eccentric neighborhoods in Australia.
Not only was it entertaining at the time, but I particularly miss it here in Singapore, where everyone does their best to blend in and not stick out. You never see piercings or tattoos, and since male homosexuality is illegal there sure as hell aren’t drag queens out and about (though I think I have come across a Thai ladyboy or two). Prostitution is of course legal here (I know, WTF right?), but it’s definitely more contained and controlled than it was in Sydney.
- My running routes and the Eastern Beaches
I sometimes pinch myself when I think about how lucky I was to go on runs past the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I mean, there are few sights more awe-inspiring than the Opera House when you round the bend at Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, or the Bridge in the shimmering harbour once you’ve climbed Heartbreak Hill in Rose Bay.
Meanwhile, we only lived about 15 minutes from world-famous Bondi Beach and its even more stunning sister beaches, Bronte and Tamarama. Aussies and beach enthusiasts will tell you that there are a million better beaches in Australia that are less crowded and even more spectacular, and they’re probably right — the country is lousy with fantastic beaches (if only the sun weren’t so damn strong!). But surely there are few places in the world where you can leave the city and go surfing 15 minutes later. Just amazing.
- My true-blue Aussie friends
Before we moved to Australia in early 2009, I of course devoured Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, which I could never praise enough for its wonderful wit and incredible reams of interesting information. Anyway, one of the passages that got me most excited was this paragraph from Chapter 1, page 10 (2001 US paperback edition):”The people are immensely likable — cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. They have a country that is prosperous, well-ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Rupert Murdoch no longer lives there. [HA!]. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”When I read that passage, I pictured the hubs and myself surrounded by throngs of Aussie friends at a typical barbecue on the beach, drinking beers (of course), and just soaking up sunshine. Of course, things didn’t quite work out like that. On a shallow (like, serving you a coffee or giving instructions to tourists) level, Aussies generally are cheerful and obliging. When it comes to genuine friendship, though, they’re a tough nut to crack. I’ve heard that Sydney is particularly cliqueish, but I’ve also heard (both from Aussies and other expats) that it can seem like a waste to invest in friendships with expats because they’re only around for a limited amount of time anyway.For the first 9 months of our time in Australia, I had a terrible time making friends. I made some nice acquaintances through lacrosse (where of course most of us were expats), and met up with a few other expat bloggers, but if someone lived far away, or had kids (and all the responsibilities and different schedule that entails), it was hard to get things off the ground. I spent so much time at home, pining for my awesome friends back in the U.S. and bemoaning my lack of a social life.
Then, in February, I started a new job. I worked in an office with seven real live Australians (and one Brit). Though I can sometimes be a bit shy in unfamiliar situations, it was impossible not to come out of my shell when surrounded by so many warm, friendly and hilarious people. Though the office grew and changed during the 11 months I spent there, I remain friends with each and every one of my original co-workers, not to mention a number of the others who subsequently came aboard. Through the everyday office environment, and sharing in the struggles and triumphs that go along with working for a small company, I felt like I was finally able to “prove” myself to the Aussies and gain their trust.
In return, I got to know some of the kindest, most fun-loving and loyal people I’ve ever met. Countless days (and nights) were spent laughing (and eating). From the company holiday in Bali, to dancing the night away in Kings Cross, to crashing on a co-worker’s couch in Manly before running in a road race with another co-worker, my last year in Australia was filled with so many fun and happy times.
Best of all, for my going-away party they threw me a barbecue, at Bondi. There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to my time in Oz.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the things that I definitely DON’T miss. I’ll save that post for another day, though.