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Arriving in Sydney

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After 6 months in Asia, Australia was a real culture shock. We emerged, blinking and bleary-eyed from our all-too-short overnight flight from Bali, into the strangely unfamiliar familiarity of a damp, cold and drizzly Sydney winter morning. Where were the hustling porters grabbing for our bags? The legit and not-so-legit taxi drivers thronging around us, each trying to shunt us toward his own car? Nowhere to be seen, for in Sydney the business of two Irish backpackers is hardly a prize to be fought for. For possibly the first time since leaving home, a taxi was beyond our means, and we joined the line for the bus.

We had spent so long in Asia that our sense of perspective had shifted. Arriving in Bangkok from Bombay, we had marvelled at the clean streets, the shiny new cars and the general feeling of affluence. Re-entering the country from Laos, and again from Cambodia, felt like returning home – except that the roads in Ireland are no-where near as good. Convenience stores on every corner sell familiar brands of everything from deodorant to batteries. “This is just like the West,” we had said.

Now, though, looking through the rain-streaked windows of the airport bus at Sydney’s ordered streets, we realised that this was not the case at all. Thailand is developed and affluent, but with its tuk-tuks careering down the streets, whole families aboard mopeds and live turtles making bids for freedom at the market, it is nonetheless 100% Asia. Sydney may be further east than Bangkok, but its most definitely the West.

As a tourist in Asia, it is possible to spend huge sums of money just about everywhere, but it is also possible to live comfortably on very little. Aside from learning to recognise the guesthouses and restaurants that fit your wallet, very little effort is required to stay on budget. Our daily allowance of US$25 each had stretched a long way, but that was all about to change.

We had booked our accommodation in advance, going to some lengths to try and locate Sydney’s cheapest double room. We had correspondingly low expectations of what the hostel would offer, so as we checked into our most expensive room in 6 months, we were relieved to find things were considerably better than we had feared. We found we needed to develop a whole new set of criterion to judge our accommodation. Before, we would check out the ensuite, now we considered the distance to the bathroom, and how many people we had to share with. Rather than worry about the price and quality of the hotel restaurant, we checked out the range of pots and pans in the kitchen, and wondered how far to the nearest supermarket.

For 6 months, we had eaten every meal in a restaurant, or occasionally on hadn’t so much as boiled a kettle since leaving Ireland. Having the freedom to make a cup of coffee was a real novelty. Filling the trolley with groceries, chopping an onion or taking a beer from the fridge were all activities to be savoured. Just as well really, since our new budgetary constraints meant that restaurants and pubs were no longer part of the daily routine.

Asia is regarded as a shopper’s mecca, and with good reason. Prices are low, the selection vast and exotic. For those of us who suffer from retail neurosis, though, shopping in Asia can be less than fruitful. In India, Caelen had roared with laughter as he watched me flee stall after stall, chased away as yet another vendor stood too close and dispensed an unceasing flow of oily sales patter while I tried to browse. Even in the upmarket department stores of Bali, it was impossible to so much as look at an item without being surrounded by a bevy of sales assistants pointing out the obvious. So it was a pleasure to walk into a store and be left alone to browse without a hovering presence at my shoulder. But best of all, no more apologetic shakes of the head at the lack of “big size” (ladies, trying to buy a bra in Bangkok was my all time shopping nadir).

Our 6 months in Asia were fantastic, and I can’t wait to go back, but while we soaked up the exotic it was the simple pleasures we missed – sitting on the sofa watching tv, or drinking a glass of wine with friends at the kitchen table.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picture of the opera house Sydney - Australia travelogues
Photograph of Caelen and Rory by the harbour Sydney - Australia travelogues
Yes, that's right, Sydney!

Caelen & Rory hang out by the harbour

Picture of the gang walking from Spit to Manly Sydney - Australia travelogues
Photograph of the view of the harbour Sydney - Australia travelogues
Walking from Spit Bridge to Manly

View of Sydney Harbour

Picture of the harbour Sydney - Australia travelogues
Photograph of the harbour Sydney - Australia travelogues
View of Sydney Harbour Watson's Bay