Was a fully saturated, action packed, emotional rollercoaster whirlwind of a visit – powered by vegemite, sunscreen and sushi.
Being at home again, after over two years away, was always going to be a bit of a surreal experience. The strangest part however, was that so much felt completely normal. My parents seemed unchanged, my little brothers still towered over me, even my brother’s fiancée (whom I’d never met before) was exactly as I expected, a natural addition to the scene awaiting me at the airport.
After a 36 hour journey with virtually no sleep (there was too much food and entertainment to indulge in during the flight), meeting and greeting the family, and ‘checking in’ to my parent’s place (again, unchanged), I had a shower and a quick siesta, and then went straight to a friend’s 30th birthday in Princess Park.
Prinny was my old stomping (and running) ground, just around the corner from Melbourne Uni. I arrived late to the picnic/BBQ to find my ‘north side’ friends clustered around a bunch of eskies and a fold out table laden with dips and mostly eaten birthday cake. They were sipping cider and bubbles and wearing summery clothes, as though that’s what they’d been doing ever since I left. Obviously that’s not the case – many of them have been busy being lawyers and having babies and doing PhDs in disciplines I can’t pronounce the names of. But this Sunday afternoon was super casual, yet picture perfect, and it instantly made me feel as though I hadn’t missed a beat.
Anyway, ‘off the plane and to a party’ pretty much set the pace of my entire stay. Except for when I was at a music festival, hiking, or on the road to visit rellies interstate, I was busy in Melbourne catching up with groups and individuals over breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, walks and dinner. Unfortunately for me, in early December almost everybody was still at work in the real world, so there was a fair bit of visiting people on their lunch breaks. It was actually quite nice to see where they worked – mostly in impressive looking glass high-rises. One morning I even begrudgingly met up with my brother at 7.30am, ‘the only time his schedule would allow’, which was a shock to my system and a telling reminder of the differences in our lives. Fortunately, despite the career disparity, we still got along as well as we always have, and fortunately this was the case with just about everyone. I’ve invested a lot a of time and effort into keeping in touch with people while away, and it was a relief to realise it’s paid off. Not once did I feel like a stranger.
So what were the highlights? Well there were too many to mention, and it wouldn’t be fair to single out one over others. Besides, this was a purely social holiday, and I doubt my personal life has anything new to offer the blogosphere.
Instead, to summarise my trip without having to write properly, I’m going to be very Gen Y and put my observations into lists; of things that surprised me, things that I’d missed, and things that I learnt from my visit to home.
Things about Melbourne that surprised me (or that I’d forgotten about)
- Increased prevalence of beards – notably the full-blown Ned Kelly ginger bush variety, which I’m not particularly sold on, but is now ubiquitous in the northern suburbs and at hipster music festivals. (I don’t mind a bit of respectably trimmed scruffle though, and it was nice to see a lot of that around too).
- Prices – despite having free accommodation, being cooked for, shouted, taken out, and chauffeured around, this was still one of the most expensive holidays I’ve ever had. I’d forgotten just how pricey Melbourne was. Ten dollars for a pint of cider? That’s a three course meal in Spain!
- Internet and phone app dating – seems to now be the norm. I suppose that makes sense in such a modern, proactive society, where people know what they want, are ruthless in looking for it, and time is at a premium. However seeing this change (and meeting all the new +1s) made me realise not only how old fashioned I am, but just how incredibly passive my attitude is toward the whole question of finding a partner is.
- The Australian sun – how it burns! I’d forgotten about the ‘no ozone’ thing, oops.
- Trendy hipster trendiness (bluntly described by a friend as a ‘big w*** fest’, which is definitely one way of looking at it) – everything seemed so fancy, so designer, so elaborate. Especially what comes on your plate. I used to work in hospitality and I thought I knew all the food words. But things have changed. It’s been taken to another level, damn master chef and everyone wanting to be a ‘foodie’.
- Urban sprawl – Melbourne apparently now spans over 100km. You can drive and drive and the city never ends.
- My mum has become a cricket fan – Now this was a shock. She was always a kindred ‘non-cricket’ person, but now she leaves the TV on all day when the cricket’s on, and speaks cricket language (all fractions and innings and names of people I don’t know). I feel betrayed.
- Public transport – a tardy, lumbering embarrassment. It’s hard for me to believe I used to spend up to 3 hours a day on trams (to get from one ‘inner city’ suburb to another), and never thought much of it. Compared to the metro of, for example Madrid (also 4 million people), Melbourne is light years behind. I’m not sure what the criteria are for ‘world’s most liveable city’, but given that Melbourne has won it, public transport clearly isn’t one of them.
- Meat – at almost every meal. Seemed like a lot, in comparison to my usual passive-semi-vegetarian diet. I eat meat in Spain if it’s served to me as a tapa, or occasionally in a menú del día, but these are tiny portions compared to the quanity of meat served in an Australian main (at home or dining out).
- Bigger people. Just sayin’
- Strange new words like ‘totes’ (totally) and ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out).
Nice stuff that I’d missed, and some new pleasant surprises
- Home-style Aussie food – all those yummy things that sound weird when you try to explain them to foreigners, like curried eggs, curried sausages, cucumber dip, yo-yos, Pavlova, and chicken Parma. Even Vita Wheats got me excited.
- Lemon lime and bitters
- Real milk – none of that UHT nonsense
- Asian food – is so much better in Australia than in Spain. Or maybe it’s just about what you’re used to. I must be specifically hooked on ‘Australian style Asian food’, cos I’m sure it’s different in Asia. Anyway, I did my best to eat my fill of sushi, Bombay By Night’s ‘Chicken Makhanwalla’, and every kind of stir-fry, dumpling, mooncake noodle goreng I could get my hands on. New Year’s Day involved an epic Yum Cha feast…I think I’ve now had enough chicken’s feet and Shanghai pork buns to last me until 2015.
- Variety, variety, variety – Segovia is a hot spot for ‘traditional Spanish food’, so that is what 99% of bars and restaurants serve. But Melbourne offers food from every continent (well maybe not Antarctica). It was refreshing to be able to choose what type of cuisine I felt like eating. Bless multiculturalism!!!
- Jobs – In Melbourne it seems like every one has one, and most students even work part time – something unheard of in Spain, where about 50% of my age group is unemployed. I know that my Australian peers work incredibly hard, and not all of them have ended up in their chosen fields, but I really hope they understand how lucky they are.
- Gardens – I’ve missed back yards!
- The music – Aside from friends and family, good music in bars is probably the single biggest thing I’ve missed about Australia, and the terrible music in bars (as in ‘discotecas’, the places you go after 3am cos you want to dance) has been the single biggest disappointment of Spain*.
*at least the Spain I’ve lived in. I know there’re plenty of famous Spanish clubs that are renowned for their top notch DJs, but in your everyday venues where the normal people go, it’s latin Top 40 plus Rhiannon, at deafening volume, with nobody dancing… so it was really nice to sit around and listen to ambient electronica, at a volume that still permitted conversation, and realise it was so beautiful I never wanted to leave
- Cider – As much as I loved my Asturian experience, I’ve got to say, I prefer cider the Australian way: on tap, with the bubbles already in it.
- Coffee – I know I’ve already complained about Melbourne’s overly expensive and overly trendy bar and cafe scene, and coffee is one of the biggest culprits in regards to this. But the endless cupfulls of creamy swirly works of art were really quite delightful, and possibly even worth the price.
- Nice looking bars – awesome decor and design. With mood lighting, great music and hypnotic coffee swirls, you can disappear into another world. Cool.
- Beaches – I went for a morning run along a beautiful beach near my Great Aunt and Uncle’s place on the east coast, and I was the only person there, bliss! Even though I’ve never been a surfer/swimmer/beach babe type, I’ve missed living by the sea. Two years inland is making me feel a bit, dunno, claustrophobic.
Things I learnt (or think I learnt)
- That I can still finish a whole chicken Parma, even when topped with kangaroo fillet. (Thanks Pub Club and the Napier Hotel)
- That as much as I like bushwalking and I like camping… bushwalking and camping at the same time is not for me. Even when the boys are carrying the tents.
- That eating “scroggin” (fruit and nut trail mix with MMs) whilst hiking is a sure fire way to not lose weight whilst hiking.
- That inflatable mattresses need to be inflated, if you want them to adequately serve their purpose as a mattress.
- That it’s impossible to spot koalas when you’re looking at your feet.
- That Melbourne has it’s own special variety of cold, that gets into your bones and makes it feel at least 15° colder than it actually is. Why else would I be shivering myself to sleep on a 20° Melbourne summer evening, and, upon my return, finding a 10° Segovian winter night “balmy”.
- That Emirates are overrated.
- That I’m a lot more materialistic than I thought I was. Many of my peers in Melbourne have nice stuff (cars, houses, iPhones), and I began to notice envy creeping in, something I hadn’t felt in a while. And when my suitcase was delayed for 3 days on the way home, I started to overthink and worry about what would happen if I lost all my things. Perhaps I’m not such a free spirit after all.
- That at home I feel much more susceptible and reactive to…everything. It’s not just jealousy. The terrible public transport stresses me out. Elevated prices disgust me. The new government’s policies revolt me, make me angry and ashamed for my country. On the flip side, the positive aspects (such as good music, art and produce, beautiful gardens, and friends and family doing inspiring things), make me swell with pride and joy and optimism. When I’m overseas, it’s much easier to detatch. I don’t feel subject to pressures (not that anyone pressures me at home) or responsible for shit governments (not that I’m responsible at home). I just take things for how they are and then choose if or how much I want to engage or react emotionally. Perhaps an attitude I should work on maintaining next time I’m in Australia.
- That seeing people one-on-one, and catching up with large groups of people in which you want to talk to everyone at the same time, are both very exhausting, but in different ways.
- That being ‘on holidays’ at home, with all your family and friends, is awesome. Ex-pat or not, I recommend it to anyone! (stage your own disappearance for a few months, come back, and everyone will buy you beers!)
- Most of all, I learnt that I had been denying to myself the extent to which I missed everyone. I tried to convert it in my head to “missing situations or moments”, such as watching QI on Tuesday nights at my parents’ house, playing scrabble with friends in winter, or getting Thalia Thai or fish ‘n chips on hangover days. Wrong. I missed people – my parents, my brothers, and my friends. With or without QI and Thaila Thai. But I guess that’s a good thing, and I’m lucky to have people to miss. Very lucky.