Wednesday, 3 February 2010

'Episodes': Return to Australia Part II (of a yet to be disclosed number of parts)

I went home to Australia for a month in December. Rather than trying to squeeze everything that happened into one blog, which would be as difficult and time-consuming as tipping two similar 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles out onto a table and then putting them back together again using only the toes of my left foot, I thought I'd write a few 'episodes' blogs instead: bits and pieces of events, thoughts and whatnots that transpired while I was there. Taken together, hopefully they'll create a bigger picture anyway. (I'm just praying that that picture doesn't end up looking like this.)

The Porridge Incident

Asiana Airlines Flight OZ601 from Seoul to Sydney. About two hours before landing, I made the somewhat catastrophic mistake of selecting porridge over an omelette for breakfast, believing that eating eggs on a plane is never going to be pleasant for anyone concerned. But, after the tinfoil-covered dish was placed in front of me, the flight attendant leanded over to drop an unexpected condiment on top: a small plastic fish filled with what was apparently a perfect accompaniment for this meal: soy sauce.

After 20 hours on planes, my mind cogs could only muster up the energy to think, 'Soy sauce is to porridge as she must be is to joking' (which, I'm sure you'll agree, fails the basic rule of analytical comparison). That little fish casually tossed onto the tinfoil lid was an immediate and unsettling omen of the horror that lay beneath. With timid fingers, I slowly peeled up the edges of the foil, letting the fish reveal his purpose. He was there to muddle and mix in with that delightful breakfast food sure to whet even the fussiest appetite: prawn and broccoli studded porridge. 'Studded' isn't even the right word, as that implies that there was a little 'spring' or 'substance' to the porridge that a prawn or a broccolo might get lodged in. No, these prawns and broccoli were submerged in a transclucent white gunge. It looked like a sad combination of fake snow and tepid water, and it slopped around as the plane hit turbulence.

I didn't taste it, but I'm fairly certain that this porridge wouldn't be described as 'sweet' in the same way the gloriously goldeny-syrupy porridge I was looking forward to might be. Instead I folded the foil back down over the dish, turning away like a child whose innocence has just been shattered.

Lesson learned: When ordering meals on an Asian airline, you can save yourself a traumatic culinary experience by asking, 'what's in it?' before making your selection. This holds no matter how confident you may be in your knowledge of the ingredients of basic dishes.

The City that Never Sleeps

When you live somewhere for a fair amount of time, you get used to the sounds that swirl around outside your door. In London, I'm now accustomed to hearing the squeaking of bus brakes, the whoosh of cars, the whirl of sirens and the growl of motorbikes as they tear up Putney Hill. They're all mechanical noises, and they drown out whatever else might be around.

On my second morning back in Sydney, I was staying at my friend Kim's place, and a forgotten noise woke me up at 5am. In a tree outside her window, what sounded like hundreds of birds were squabbling, flapping, chirping and talking like overexcited women after a Hugh Grant sighting. I felt like I'd woken up in the middle of a jungle, but it was actually just a flat near the beach in Coogee.

I remembered that Sydney is a city that never sleeps, mainly because of the wide range of animals that keep you up all night. In Summer it's fruit-bats bickering and warbling as they gobble the nectar from Silky Oaks, cicadas humming and screeching in a strangely synchronised rhythm, or a lone mozzie who thinks of himself as an intrepid treasure hunter and your ear as a cave of rubies. In Winter it's usually a collection of little birds who plink out quick three-note tunes to one another every couple of minutes, dogs barking in the distance, or another ruby-hungry mozzie who'd heard a rumour of this hidden cave and has come to investigate.

The animals carry on all day and all night. But I guess their efforts would only really stunt the sleep of newcomers to Australia, because after a couple of days back home, I could sleep through all of those noises again. Well, apart from the mozzies. No one can sleep through a sound like that.

Old Doors, Old Houses

On the trips I've taken in Europe, I'm always teased when I am suddenly overcome by the sight of a really old door. A grand, intricate door that dates back to the 1400s or something ridiculous like that. I react this way because, growing up in Australia, my perception of 'oldness' is slightly skewed. Suburbs in Australia look 'old' to me when they have faded fibro houses built in the 70s. That's the 1970s...

More episodes to come.