(NOTE: I’ll be swinging back and forth between Australia, winter camps, and present day things going on for a bit since these posts have been considerably backed up. But never fear! Just means more reading material.)
As most of you dear readers know already, this wasn’t my first time to Australia. Back in 2011 I studied abroad in Wollongong for five months. To date, it remains the best experience of my life – and because it was so crazy amazing, I made it my goal that as soon as I graduated and had enough money, I would go back. In fact it’s the main reason why I decided to teach ESL abooad.
Anyway so this time around, I wasn’t there for the tourist mode, nor the sights, nor the dazzle of novelty. Instead, this was a vacation in the truest sense of taking a break to relax, consuming good food and drink, and seeing all the Australians I love and miss.
The flight over was decent. I might do an in-depth review of Korean Airlines later, but for now the only relevant thing to say is that in the 10 hour overnight flight, I got maybe 3 hours of cumulative sleep. This is after 2 week’s worth of 4 hours of sleep per night due to winter camps and travel prep. That said, as soon as I arrived in Australia, it was like getting caffeine intravenously slammed through my system. Through the next series of mishaps, my whole life was a silver lining. I’ll get into those mishaps in a moment, but there was nothing that could dampen my spirits.
Australia has this strange affect on me in that I’m happy (nay, ecstatic) about life merely based on my current location on the planet. Raining? But it’s raining in Australia! Strep throat? But it’s strep throat in Australia! Getting up at 5:30 am? But it’s 3 hours of extra time to be conscious in Australia! Dismembered by a rogue kangaroo? But it’s dismemberment by a stereotypical Australian animal in Australia! (Also I probably get to spend longer here in recovery! Yay!!) Nothing – literally nothing (save death of either C or myself) – could put me in a bad mood for an extended period there. It’s too lovely, too bright, too warm, too friendly to stay mad. Plus there’s beaches, absurdly bodacious beaches.
So onto the mishaps! Customs went even smoother than the landing and barely took any time at all. We’d had a delay in takeoff, so I was a bit late getting to the arrival gate where C was supposed to pick me up. He had, in fact, insisted on picking me up : )
But, mishap #1: I couldn’t find him right away. Waited about ten minutes and then spotted him walking in, in a frenzy, looking for me in the opposite direction. Wheeled my luggage over and, when he still didn’t see me, I sneakily hugged him from behind. Of course that’s the moment when you think in absolute panic, “If this isn’t ___, I’m in deep shit right now.”
To make sure, I whispered (probably creepily), “You are C, right?”
Which, to my immense relief, he answered with a nervous laugh and a, “You had me shitting myself.”
Turned out there had been an issue with parking (god bless airport parking lots everywhere…), but we headed to the car no problemo, catching up all cheery and smiley. I might have also run off to dance in the sunlight and clean air more than a few times, under C’s completely and in no way at all judgemental eye.
Threw the stuff in the car, sweating with the already-sweat-inducing heat (34C at 8am), and just as we were about to rev the car to turn on the air con, the motor died.
“Well that’s not good,” I said.
“Oh no!” said C. “I left the lights on and the battery died!”
But not to worry, we went to ask a nearby traffic director (a friendly guy who C was convinced was Samoan and had made friends with earlier, when in the midst of parking difficulties). He said we could go borrow a battery charger thing (my knowledge of cars is immense) over near the gate. Managed to get one and jump start the car (with the help of the Somoan). Soon we were zooming down the highway with the coastline dipping in and out of the eucalyptus forests.
After about half an hour, we stopped for some drinks (poor C was pouring sweat faster than a Korean pours soju) and ate Golden Gay Times (my favourite Australian ice cream bar, and one that we used to fight for on ice cream nights back at I-House, our university dorm).
It was absolutely perfect and couldn’t have been better, except –
Mishap #3: The car died again.
This time we called a car help person (again – cars, knowledge, zero). Didn’t take long, and I amused myself by taking photos and contemplating C’s lisence plate, “REH 482”.
“Heh heh…” I snickered. “The way the 4 and the B kind of look like an A and a B -”
“It’s REHAB2,” he said. “I know. Took me two years before someone pointed it out.”
The guy arrived eventually (as we sweltered in the shade) and gave us a friendly chat – battery needed more time charging, aka driving with the motor running, and all the time we’d spent sitting in the car with the cold air blasting and engine idling had drained the power. He gave our hood a friendly pat and sent us on our way with the advice that we should keep driving for at least an hour if not a bit more to make sure the battery stayed charged.
We had the option to drop in on C’s Nonna for lunch, but that direction headed towards much traffic and, by extension, engine idling.
Mishap #4 arose when we tried to contact her to let her know for sure we weren’t coming: C’s phone had run out of credit. About to consider buying some more, mishap #5 happened when his phone’s battery died too. Oh well.
“She wasn’t expecting us anyway,” C said. “She wasn’t making food or anything, it was just an open invitation.”
So we took the longer, scenic route towards Wollongong, my beloved uni town. C finds it funny how much I love Wollongong, since (in his opinion) it’s swarming with bogons (Aussie rednecks) and its beach “isn’t even nice”. Compared to Canadian beaches?
Wtv’s man. Maybe it’s just hiraeth making me nostalgic (hiraeth being the best new word I learned, which means a homesickness or yearning for a home to which you can’t ever return, a grief for lost places in your past). Regardless, I was thrilled to be returning within hours of my landing in Oz.
Both of us were starving for real food by the time we arrived and I requested a chicken pot pie from the Gwynneville bakery. Andrea and I had discovered their pies when she came to visit, and it’s been a 3 year regret that we didn’t get to have one last one before leaving. One of Andrea’s few requests of my trip here was to 1) eat a pie for her, and 2) eat a steak for her. For an included 3, she also requested vegemite. Done ^ ^
Stepping into the Gwynneville bakery, it was obvious some fancy-pants changes had occurred in my absense. They’d expanded their shop into the next door establishment, making one large delicatessen/cafe in which to kick back. Certainly not the budget pie shop of my student days, but I still got a curry chicken pie and a long black coffee for under $10.
It soon became clear that my choice of foods was poor in this weather that was fast becoming stickier than piderman’s boots.
Hot baked pie? Scalding coffee? Omguhh the heat…
I desperately wanted to go to the beach, but we were expected back in Callala Bay, C’s hometown, for family dinner, hangout, getting stuff organized/unpacked, and whatnot. We went to do up the car windows so the air conditioning would circulate better, but…
Mishap #6: the window broke. And I mean it was jammed completely down so we couldn’t even pry it upwards with our fingers. Well, hey! If there’s one place you can exist with perma-opened windows, it’s Aussieland.
The drive was leisurely (even with C’s occasionally hectic driving). The fully opened window had our ears battered by air pressure, though we had fun making our voices go all wobbly. (He-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ello-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o. Ho-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow a-a-a-a-are you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou?)
Arrived an hour and a half later in Callala Bay, the place C insisted has been voted the place with the whitest beaches in all of Australia. A steep claim. But then again, he is both extremely knowledgeble about obscure facts and one of the best people at convincing everyone said obscure facts are true. I didn’t challenge him. (Well, I did…but he rebutted my launched eyebrows with a “give-me-proof-otherwise” look. Humbled, I settled my eyebrows – to above narrowed eyes).
When we got to the house, C’s parents immediately let him know that he was in deep hot water with his Nonna, because:
Mishap #7: turns out his Nonna was in fact expecting us. Not only that, but she made meatballs.
A compensatingly cheery phonecall later (cheery on C’s end, stony on his Nonna’s), we had some cooling drinks and then dropped my stuff off at his Nonna’s Callala Bay house. She lives in a different house in Sydney most of the time, and kindly let us have the extra space for my visit. Afterward it was getting on dinner time and C’s parents suggested we go to their favourite Thai place on the Bay.
We get there and there’s live music, dancing, loud conversation and laughter – and I realized how much I’ve missed this from Western culture. As appreciable as Korea is, it’s never a liberatingly good time when you’re both having a belly laugh with your friends and getting dirty looks for doing so from the Korean servers. Koreans consider waygooks to be too loud, but I’ll just throw it out there that this waygook here finds Koreans to be too quiet.
C’s parents go to this Thai restaurant very often, so they knew the server when she arrived and asked about her family, she in turn asking about theirs. It was adorable and small town and something that I always wished for growing up, the ability to get to know the people around you instead of viewing them as fixtures to interact with briefly and formally in a language you have to fight to learn. (Sorry, brief moment of sad on never living anywhere English; pulling myself together now).
The server started us off with wine, fried entrees, and spicy chile dipping sauces – the spicy not being the slow firestew build, but rather the sharp stab of heat. This was the nostalgic kind of spicy that I love and only realized then that I missed. Everything was delicious and I was beside myself.
Conversation was thrown back and forth across the table. I won’t call this a full-out mishap, but it was startling (and somewhat embarrassing) how difficult it was for me to understand their accents at times. I blame the heat, the wine, the music, and of course the lack of fast-paced English interactions over the past 4 months. The only time I’d encountered this before in Oz was when I was at a different friend’s home for dinner and his grandfather was over. No matter how hard I tried, I could not comprehend a word that came out of his grandfather’s mouth.
Somewhere between this :
It was surreal, knowing they’re speaking English, but not being able to understand. This wasn’t half so bad, but I occasionally had to smile and nod and hide the fear in my eyes that I was possibly and unknowingly agreeing with the concept of genocide. Not that I think genocide was brought up (?!). But you know. Something to that dramatic and drastic effect.
It was really busy at the restaurant and the servers informed us jovially that food would be another half hour’s wait.
“Why don’t you go for a wanda?” C’s mom asked me.
“A wanda?” I was caught off guard and my perplexion showed before I could conceal it.
“Yeah, you two could get some air on a wanda! A wanda would be perfect by the Bay.”
C had the grace then to laugh at me and expose my inability to figure out what “wanda” meant. “Wander”, apparently. Ah. Right-o. Wine must have really grasped my brain by the stem to swing around like a battered sack of cats.
So we wandered, and hey – what was a day of mishaps to end with but another mishap?
So mishap #8: I stood up to wanda and realized just how dizzy, drunk, exhausted, and nauseous I was. That said I wasn’t altogether unhappy (because I was dizzy, drunk, exhausted, and nauseous in Australia!!), but I didn’t know how I was going to stomach the main course when I’d yet to settle my stomach from the entrees.
Thankfully no one in the family pressured me to eat more than the meager serving I put on my plate and the evening wound down. And, despite the mishaps, it was the perfect day.
Because despite the mishaps, they were mishaps in Australia.
So to end this mammoth post, I ask you at last, dear readers, what is the country or place that makes you feel uplifted no matter what life throws at you?
And don’t forget to vote in the post below for the kinds of future posts you’d like to see!