Sunday, September 28, 2008

simply awesome

Australia was simply beautiful! I could immediately feel the difference as soon as I got out of the airport. The weather was spring crisp, the wide expanse of greenery everywhere a sight for sore eyes, and the atmosphere famously laid-back Aussie. I had made the right choice in going Down Under for my break.

Just an idea hatched a couple of months ago, it was made in preparation for the unforeseen circumstances. The timing was such that it would coincide with the end of my 1 year here in Tokyo. Lots of things were happening over the last few weeks and planning a holiday at the same time made it even more stressful.

But more importantly, it was my first trip out of Asia. I've been to many countries in this continent already and I've always wanted to explore further. There was no way I could take longer holidays with the limited number of leaves I have, and thus, the best option seemed to be Australia. I was already excited as I saw the sun rise from the plane as we began to descend in Kingsford Smith International Airport.

Apparently, the day I arrived was the hottest spring day ever in the history of 40 years in Sydney. It went way up above 30 degrees Celcius. No wonder it was so hot! To think that I escaped the end of summer in Tokyo to experience even hotter weather on the other side of the Equator. How ironic.

Tze was waiting for me at the arrival hall. It had been years since we last met. I was really glad that he came, there's nothing like having someone wait for you when you arrive at a new and unfamiliar country. He still looked pretty much the same, I was expecting him to have put on weight since almost everyone Down Under is at least double or triple my size.

Our first stop was the Sydney Fish Market. The best way to enjoy seafood here is to eat out in the open air, together with the seagulls. If you think they were cutely annoying in Finding Nemo, they actually are in real life. Or at least here at the Fish Market where they have no qualms picking food from the table and making sure you have an interrupted meal with them lurking over the umbrellas and around the vicinity.

We got ourselves a seafood platter and some fresh oysters. It was quite a task trying to enjoy good food under the blistering heat excellent weather while fending off the seagulls. On top of that, the wind occasionally blew over half-used soy sauce sachets and discarded ketchup containers which simply added to the experience.

It had been awhile since I had a meal al fresco. As it was such a touristy spot, there were many foreigners there. In fact, I think I saw more Asians than Australians dining out. Many were enjoying the sun and seafood, sans seagulls. Since I had just endured a 10-hour flight with little opportunity to sleep, I was still a bit dazed. Nevertheless, I was trying to take in the atmosphere the best I could.

At the pier, there were people having their own little party in their private boats. I was almost tempted to dip my toes into the water just to feel the sea water below me. But I reminded myself that I would head out to the beach one day. And not only would I allow my toes to play in the water, but I would do something I had never done before. Which would involve more than swimming in the sea and drinking a whole lot of sea water!

To avoid being baked in the sun, we decided to continue on to the city. We took a walk at Chinatown and Paddy's Markets. There was a fresh produce market at Paddy's which amazed me with the variety of vege and fruits that were sold. I envied the Asians here. They do not have a problem cooking the dishes they are familiar with.

What's more, the price was so much cheaper than what I pay for in Tokyo. For AUD2.80 they get a kilo of tomatoes, I get 6 tomatoes. For AUD1.80, they get a big bunch of long beans, I get a measly 20 sticks! No wonder the Aussies are so well fed.

Before I turned green with envy, we decided to continue on to the Central Business District. Since it was a weekend, a lot of people were out and about. I was looking at the traditional buildings that had been carefully preserved when I caught an interesting sight at the Bank of Australasia. I hope this applied to their working principles and not merely as an amusing decoration at the entrance!

As the weather cooled down, we walked towards Hyde Park. It had a mixture of tropical and temperate fauna. Seeing people enjoying the greenery reminded me of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. However, there was something else which attracted another type of crowd here on weekends. The backdrop of a St Mary's Cathedral and a lovely fountain in the middle proved to be irresistible to wedding entourages.

One of the couples that we saw had quite a big group of best men and maids of honour with them. They looked Lebanese and must be quite well-to-do if they had to provide their entourage with matching suits and dresses.

What's more, they were chauffeured in antique cars such as the Rolls Royce. One of the limo even had a bar in it. Complete with wine glasses and a mini juke box. Their bouncers drivers were nearby taking a breather and making sure the cars were in tip-top condition and ready to whisk the group to the next destination.

Then we walked on to Circular Quay where I got even more excited. Surely this must be the most touristy part of Sydney. Tourism posters of Sydney all over the world have at least these 2 icons - the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was awashed in soft lavender and pale blue.

I had originally wanted to attend a hi-tea with a live opera as part of my attempt to fill my performing arts quota, but unfortunately the only day of the week they had this was also my flight to Brisbane. But being here itself was just awesome. When I planned for this trip, I did not have a specific list of places I wanted to visit. There was just a lot of ideas thrown in as to what I wanted to experience. After all, spontaneity makes it a whole lot fun.

Even though it was only my first day in Sydney, I could tell that it was going to be a good holiday. Thoughts of work still crept in, as if trying to tell me that I did not deserve this break. But as I gazed at the waterfront and its surrounding, I thanked God that I had finally made it to Australia. It may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but this trip itself had a lot of significance tied to it. And having seen so much of Sydney city just in 1 day was more than I expected.

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