Through Reykjavik Boulevard, I showed you Sydney through some of my best photos, and recently, I highlighted a few of my favorite cheap eats in the city. Looking back, my time in Sydney was very low-energy. To phase out the jet lag, my days were centered around eating, people watching, scouring every market I came across, wrapping my head around my presence in the land down under, and trying to zero in on Australia’s identity.
To write about my experiences in Sydney, I found more challenging than usual. What could I tell you about my trip that would stand out from all the positive things I’ve said about other places? How could I properly express the ineffable joy I felt during my time there? The truth is I can’t. Almost 2 months have passed since my trip to Australia, and detailed memories are becoming more difficult to recall. So for this momentary lapse, I’ve turned to my travel journal where I captured the thoughts I most wanted to remember and decided to share a few of them with you.
My eyes were momentarily blinded by white light, as I lifted the window shade. As Sydney’s skyline came into view below, I could see the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and skyscrapers jutting towards the clouds. I was in denial that I was about to step foot on my 4th continent. What would be waiting for me on the ground? Would Sydney be as great as I had built it up to be in my head?
Yes, yes, it would, and it all started with an early morning stroll across the Sydney Harbour Bridge…
Walking Across the Bridge
It’s 8am, the sun is shining, and the city is starting to come alive. More and more people are moving through the streets on their way to work, school, or commitments for the day. Though they move with purpose, they’re still trying to wipe the sleep away from their expressions. Thus the coffee shops are full to the brim with the usuals who stop in for their morning dose of caffeine. The buses and ferries are up and running, and early bird tourists are flocking to the Opera House. In a career oriented, multicultural and fast-paced setting but cleaner and quieter, I wonder if this is why businessmen and big city admirers are so attracted to Sydney. Or maybe that’s just me. I haven’t seen the city yet, but I’m already in love.
Watching Sydney wake up ignites my imagination. What will people do today? Who will they interact with? How will they react? What will they eat? Will they go about their normal routine? Does the day have something different in store for them? Well, I don’t know, but for me, first priorities are fresh air and a long walk to get the blood flowing again from the 14 hour plane ride. So I’m heading to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As I make my way, joggers pass me by, I encounter small tour groups, and people trying to get the perfect shot of the Opera House across the way. It’s nearly deserted on the walkway so I can stroll leisurely/somewhat haphazardly without getting in the way of others.
The breeze cools me off as it sweeps across my skin, and I run my fingers along the metal fenced siding counting the number of love locks chained to the fence along the way. Occasionally looking back at Sydney’s skyline behind me, I’m still in denial that I’m here. I know for certain the five-year old me never would’ve thought I’d be standing here right now. I feel dizzy and tired and all I can hear in my head are the voices of Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, and “throw some shrimp on the barbie, mate” so I stop and enjoy the view for a bit. My bed at the hostel won’t be ready until 2pm so maybe breakfast is the next best idea.
Market City & Chinatown
No matter where I am in the world, the word “Chinatown” is music to my ears because that usually means cheap, delicious comfort food. It’s here in this small section of Sydney where I ate most of my meals and discovered that the present Asian population keeps to themselves where language and culture are familiar. This is my mecca.
Walking the streets, I am overwhelmed because there are so many small restaurants I’d love to try, but I don’t have a big enough appetite to accommodate them all. I am constantly wary of price and who is cooking and serving my food. One instance of eating at a Thai restaurant run by a Korean family is enough to make me more conscious about the origins of the meals I eat. Primarily, I stick to the outdoor markets (i.e. The Rocks, Chinatown) and most notably Market City. In a short 4 days, the scene became all too familiar at the third floor of this shopping center. Making my rounds through the food court. Settling into a standard plastic chair. What’s for dinner tonight? Indian? Vietnamese? Ramen? It was cheap. It was addictive. It was comfort food. Stop for bubble tea on the way out? Hell yeah! Back in the morning for a breakfast smoothie? You bet. Eating in the food courts reminded me of my university cafeterias and forced me to summon the best and worst of memories from my college days. Reflection and nostalgia come at the oddest hours. Bewilderment washes over me as I try to to trace my steps from broke college student who so desperately wanted to get out to world traveler who not once wishes to be anywhere else.
Catching up with Old Friends
Well, I summoned my friend Hannah, whom I met last year in Seattle, to help me make sense of it all. On the ferry to Manly Beach, I grilled her about everything from pop culture to politics. She taught me that though Australia does have their own unique entertainment and pop culture with which much of the world is unfamiliar, the country adopts a lot of American television shows, musicians, artists, etc. Being the most isolated continent, there’s a theory that Australia doesn’t have its own identity, rather it is where American and Asian cultures intersect. Sydney is becoming more residential, expanding to include several suburbs, and even though the seasons are opposite to their neighbors in the north, lifestyle is very much the same. Perhaps that’s why this place feels like home. Political systems aside, on the ground floor, there are more similarities than differences. As a visitor, the environment is new and exciting, and I just want to experience everything it has to offer. I often wonder why the locals don’t marvel at their city the way I do, but when I talk to them, my surroundings become more normalized. I begin to understand the inner workings of the city and see things the way they do.
We walk the main strip, which looks like a still out of a Billabong magazine, to the beach where we’re swept up in a pack of kids on a field trip. Despite the drizzling rain, they appear happy as can be to not be sitting in a classroom right now. I don’t blame them. The beach is deserted because it’s not quite summer yet. With nothing pressing on the agenda, we stroll along the beach and Hannah continues to tell me about life in Australia as my eyes wander to take in my surroundings. I asked her what makes Sydney so special to which she replied “It’s home!” From an outsider’s perspective, it’s not much to go on, but at the same time, I know exactly what she means.