Hello Again, Sydney

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Tea time

How on earth did tea not get a mention in My Favourite Things? Part of the great coffee conspiracy no doubt. But they couldn't hold it down. Tea doesn't need advertising, or viral marketing campaigns. It doesn't need fake smilers to hand out samples at Town Hall station (except maybe those dodgy chemically flavoured varieties). It's not even illegal, and yet people still drink it.

My relationship with tea started when I was a kid and my parents took me on a road trip around country NSW: Adaminaby, Coonabarabran, Narrabri, Deniliquin... In one of them we went to a shop where they had Twinings tea chests and I asked them to buy me one. Not the most reasonable request for a 12-year-old, but it was a long drive between towns and the scenery wasn't what you'd call thrill a minute (less interesting than a box of teabags in fact). So my parents caved in.

In every hotel room for the rest of the trip, I brewed something different, trying to pick the difference between Irish and English breakfast or decide which was better, Darjeeling or Earl Grey. I loved the way the packets were all different colours. Most clearly I remember the Lapsang Souchong. I think the label described it as having a gunpowder flavour. I liked that idea (and the exotic name) so much that I forgave the taste.

My tea phase lasted about as long as that holiday (much to the relief of my parents I bet). But it all came flooding back last week when I went to the Tea Centre in the Glasshouse mall to look for a birthday present for a friend. Behind the counter the staff are surrounded by tea, floor to ceiling, all lined up along shelves in metal tins the size of hatboxes (yeah you know, hatboxes). It's like standing inside a tea chest.

And this is without even getting to the teapots which are pretty amazing. I had half a mind to go home and smash ours, just so I could buy a new one. But of course, that's not the approach. I reckon a teapot is one of those household items that only accumulates its specialness after years of mundane service. The stains, chips and scratches are like shorthand for an entire domestic narrative written out over a thousand cups of tea. At least that's how I hope it works out for the teapot I bought my friend.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wakey wakey

As we all know, there are only two types of people. No, not cat people and dog people. I mean morning people and night people. I’m a morning person and my wife is a night person. That’s all well and good – couples should complement each other – but the equation gets a little more complex when a child comes along. Who will they take after?

In the first year or two it was hard to tell, but as our son settled down into a routine, it became clear he'd inherited my wife’s genes for sleep patterns. On the weekends it’s great as we can sleep in. And we have enough friends with morning children (read waking up before 6am on Sundays) to count our blessings. But during the week when we have to get Santi to child care and then get to work, it’s a different story.

Since I'm the morning person, it’s left to me to get the family motor running. My wife is very good about it, and we now have an arrangement where I wake her up at least ten minutes before she actually has to get out of bed. And even if she's still half asleep, she always manages a rendition of her morning song for Santi:

Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el rey David
con sus hijos tan bonitos que pasaban por aquí

It's a little ditty with some birds that tweet, kings that parade and a sun that rises. Except our “son” doesn't rise. Not yet. This is just a primer for the challenge of actually getting him vertical. Some days he’s bright-eyed and happy to go along with the morning routine. Others, he really needs an incentive.

This usually comes in the form of something “very exciting” going on outside. This morning a racket started up outside our building at 7am – the people in the apartment next to us are ripping out their kitchen and the workmen were tossing the debris into a skip. I could hear other people in the upstairs apartments yelling out for the workmen to shut up, but I couldn’t have been happier with the disturbance. “What’s going on?” I said to Santi, watching his eyes flash open – no sleepy blinking today. “Do you think they might have come to cut the tree down?” I asked, alluding to one of his favourite books. “What do you think the birds are going to do?” I asked him. “They’re going to throw nuts and seeds on them?” he said, hopefully, expectantly. “Why don’t you go onto the balcony and have a look?” And voila, we have lift-off.

At other times it’s been one of his weekly postcards from his uncle and aunt in Tassie that arrived the day before and that we saved for the morning. Occasionally we have a new toy or book to lure him out of bed with. And one morning I was particularly fortunate to find that a green grocer cicada had flown through an open window during the night and was sitting on the kitchen benchtop. That was pretty special, and he still remembers it, a year or so later. I thought it might have even been enough to turn him into a morning person.

But no, it wasn’t. And unfortunately, you can’t always rely on cicadas. As we go through more and more mornings I’m finding my bag of tricks is starting to run perilously low. More to the point, it won’t be long until he wises up to my little “excitement” game and it gets even harder to coax him out of bed. Any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

One word

"To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification."

Yesterday our Prime Minister stood in parliament and said sorry to the Stolen Generations. It was an important moment for Australia, and for the first time in a long time I felt like as a country we were taking a step in the right direction.

Obviously, I'm not getting carried away yet - the actual work still has to be done. But at least we've got a starting point. And now that it has been said it seems so simple. You wonder why our "leaders" refused to say it for so long. You also realise how completely you'd given up on politicians to do anything positive. And maybe, just maybe, you dare to dream that Australia might have turned a corner.

Then you go and have a look at the comments on the websites, under the story in various places, and you see there are many people who feel the exact opposite. Or they feel that it's right to say sorry, but... On the ABC website I see it took about three minutes for someone to raise the topic of monetary compensation, then some lawyer types waded in with their warnings of the flood of law suits to come, and then people started bleating about how we'll have to pay more taxes. More of our money! It baffles me that some people just can't see the world in any other terms than dollars. (Is that what it is? I really don't get it.) And you realise that we haven't turned the corner, not by a long shot.

But for the moment, I think it's time to be positive and look at how we can move forwards with the promise. And I guess, as well as offering an apology specifically to the Stolen Generations, we can hope to one day build a more open relationship between all Australians, and finally glean some knowledge and wisdom about this country from the people who've lived here for tens of thousands of years. You reckon they just might know a thing or two worth learning, and I don't mean about bush tucker. Then we might truly be a country to rave about, and not just another "strong competitor in a global market".

If you've got the time, you could do a lot worse than read the full transcript of Kevin Rudd's speech. Hear hear.