Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Suburbs - what's in a name?

This morning I caught the Emu Plains service to work, and it struck me that this suburb name might appear very exotic to tourists. I imagined them heading out there with expensive cameras, ready to take panoramic shots of large flightless birds, and their disillusionment when they actually arrived. "All we found was McDonald's and KFC."

It got me thinking about suburb names and what they sound like to people who are new in a city. I grew up in Kyle Bay, and it's impossible for me to separate the name from all the associations and memories I have of it. But what connotations does it have for an outsider? 'Bay' is promising I suppose - secluded, maybe even exclusive, with water views. But who is Kyle? He sounds like an American singer from the early '80s who wears a headband. Rose Bay - well that's easy to picture - but Kyle Bay? The jury is out.

One of my favourite suburb names in Sydney is Greystanes. You can just see the real-estate agents having conniptions. "Can't we classify this one as North Woodpark?" Actually, I've never been there. It's probably very nice. And there probably are big flightless birds at Emu Plains, for all I know.

I also remember some of the barrios from Bogota. They had an edge to them that Sydney suburbs lack. We used to live in La Macarena, which reminds most people of that funny dance that was popular for a while. Next to us was La Perseverancia (Perseverance), an extremely poor and dangerous neighbourhood wedged between upper-middle-class areas that seemed to scramble up the mountain. Another favourite of mine was Matatigres (Kill tigers). I went out there once expecting a safari and ... never mind.

But as I tried to think of more suburbs, I noticed something else - they're disappearing from my memory. I can't recall where Palermo is anymore, or the name of that rich barrio up north. How many burners did the stove in our apartment have? What was our phone number? These are the details that go I suppose.

Friday, July 20, 2007


In Colombia, you must always be aware of how many coins and small notes you have because there are plenty of situations where a large-denomination note simply will not cut it. My lasting memory is of the short taxi ride, which costs about 4,000 pesos. Attempts to proffer a 20,000 peso note at the end of the journey are guaranteed to result in an impasse, and curiously, the burden of breaking the note rests with the customer. Sure, you can stand your ground and demand that the driver change the note for you (after all, what’s he going to do, kick you out of the cab?) but that’s pretty typical gringo behaviour and won’t endear you to anyone.

The alternative is a dash to the corner shop where you can buy something and break the bill or you can try and get help from a neighbour. One day it happened to me and the driver and I wandered around the streets, in the rain, for about 10 minutes before we sorted it out. One of the ‘car-minding’ guys outside our apartment kindly offered to help me, “But I’ve only got 17,000” he apologised. Yeah, cheers mate. Tiene mucho huevo. In order to avoid these situations, you develop an unconscious competence in keeping small notes and coins handy.

Then you get to Australia, where everything is the other way around and the trick is keeping small change out of your pockets. One of the gags that mates play on each other here is to pay a friend for something (a beer, a sausage roll) with the change in his pocket. These coins are not so affectionately referred to as ‘shrapnel’ and the idea is not to let them accumulate. Part of the problem is their size and weight. The outsized 50 cent piece could be a lethal weapon in the right hands, and represents a very real threat to clothing when you have to carry it around with a bunch of other coins and a set of keys.

Here’s my change today – a fairly typical sample. Heavy dude!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chucking a sickie

Faking illness in order to get a day off work - or 'chucking a sickie' - used to be one of the great Aussie institutions. Don't tell me you haven't done it. Once I made the mistake of spending my 'sick day' on a river cruise without a hat and had to go back to work on Tuesday with sunburn. Not a stellar moment.

But I think as a nation we might be growing up and getting serious about attending work. I present as evidence the latest ad for Coldral's Cold & Flu tablets.

It begins with a man waking up in the grey light of the early morning. We can see that his eyes are sunken, and bloodshot, and for a second we wonder if this is another anti-smoking or drugs ad. But no, he gets up and in the kitchen he prods unenthusiastically at his cereal, then he turns to the radio and flicks it into life. On comes that catchy 'Soldier On!' jingo, he drops a couple of the magic pills and suddenly, things start to look up. The colour returns not just to his face, but to the whole world, and now he's marching out the door and down the street. People salute him as he goes. "Look at that man," they say. "Death warmed up just a little while ago, now he's flying like Superman!" And at the office everyone must be taking the tablets too as they're all singing along and welcoming him inside.

I wonder what that man does. Is he a real estate agent, a telesales team leader, or something even more crucial to the turning of the globe? It must be important for him not only to ignore every possible signal his body could give him, but suppress them chemically in order to go to work. Does an ad like this go through a review panel before it can be shown on TV, and if so, do they say anything about it? I guess in Australia today, making it to the office is a pretty big deal.

Maybe he's just used up all his sick days, like me. Been off all this week, with not even a sunburn to show for it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

While my sewing machine gently weeps

Mum's sewing machine, in fact. Here's a photo of the almost finished doona cover which I gave Santi for his birthday. The motif is a space invader btw.

Some lessons learnt, observations, thankyous:
- Blue and red do not provide much contrast. Blue and orange might have worked better.
- The most time-consuming thing is unpicking (my mother's machine is old and doesn't have a delete button).
- It's really neat when all the pieces come together.
- Mum helped me big time with bobbin tangles and thread snags, so thanks Mum.
- Handmade things make great presents - Santi doesn't uunderstand it yet, but he will one day.

The next project will be some curtains for the kitchen window to help keep the heat in. It's freezing here!