If you’re a regular reader of my ramblings, you probably know I’ve spent a fair bit of my writing time, wearing expat shoes and being quite vocal about the thrills and spills of culture shock – you know – stuff like: what happens when you find yourself catapulted into the arms of another country, anxiously wondering if this is simply a fling or a lasting love affair?
Well, in answer to that – Hong Kong has me in its clutches, but Australia you’ll always have my heart. (Awwww.)But on a recent trip back Down Under, it was kind of like running into an ex-boyfriend and finding something that had been so familiar, for so long, was suddenly quite alien.
I think it’s what they like to call “Reverse Culture Shock.”
Strewth mate! So where the bloody hell are you?
Stepping into the airport, for a brief moment, I contemplated, Mars? For starters, there’s a new thing they call the ePassport. Have you heard of it? I suppose I have, but watching everyone flock to the ‘SmartGate’ for self-processing had me in a flap. Yes, Yes, I know they have a similar thing in Hong Kong, but this is Australia! My Australia! “Whaddya mean things have changed!?” I’ve obviously been living under a rock because when you’re flying domestically these days, crikey…the people seem to have all but disappeared? “Bag drop-off” has reached a whole new level, it’s now called Check-in Kiosk! Not a soul in sight!
Again, “where the bloody hell are you?”
Once I’d overcome my airport drama, stepping outside into the sunburnt country almost blinded me! (Anyone looking at me scrambling madly for my sunnies might wonder if I’d been confined to a dark cell for many months.) Not so, but residing in a place where pollution blocks out the true blue sky on more than a few occasions means, while there may well be designer sunglass stores gracing every corner, rarely are the Tom Ford’s required. Australia on the other hand, is a place you pretty much need to wake-up wearing shades. And don’t be fooled into thinking all those tanned Aussies walking the streets have attained their bronzed goddess appearance, overnight!
The sun beaming down on this big, wide brown land my friends, is harsh…. and it’s a sure bet, these tanned torsos you’re gawking at, came from many years under a great southern sky, or even more likely (these days) a bottle! Not even a hat the size of Tasmania will protect you from the searing, summer heat on your newly exposed skin, without protection. Yes I’m looking at you (fresh off the plane, eager to bare the markings of a holiday in the tropics) trust me, they don’t call it the ‘sunburnt country’ for nothing!
And blokes beware, a walk up the road in the arvo, to the local pub on a scorcher of a day, wearing only boardies and thongs is likely to have you sporting a nice shade of lobster red. (Just ask my husband!)
It's Slip, Slop, Slap all the way!!
(Tip: Beware of branding! By vehicle seat belts in particular… they say the animals down under are lethal, but forget the lurking crocodile, a sun-scorched seat belt buckle can reduce a grown man to tears!)
Oh and while we’re on the topic of skin…yes, there’s flesh and lots of it, on display in all its golden glory. You might find yourself inadvertently averting your gaze in surprise (or shock), but don’t bother… this is Australia…and clothes are an optional extra.
So, re-acclimatizing (slowly), showing just a hint of skin (lathered in sunscreen, sunnies on) I took a stroll outside and before too long found myself having to explain to my three year old why there was (ahem) litter on the streets.
Admittedly, Hong Kong has a touch of OCD – let’s not forget this is the place where they clean the individual grooves of escalators with a toothbrush! I’m not saying it was a dog’s breakfast or anything, but there’s clean and there’s clean and Australia, my three year old spotted rubbish! So, stroll over, educational talk given on why they have ‘Clean Up Australia Day,’ it was into the car for an afternoon cruise.
I’d forgotten about the headaches of driving. Yes, if you’re a typical expat living the car-less (and some might say carefree) lifestyle – the whole driving thing Down Under can get you hot under the collar.
First things first, the price of petrol is almost an insult in itself.
Next thing, if you’ve got kids, there’s the whole car seat rule – which I’m certainly not one to disagree with, but making sure you’re putting your child legally in the right kind of seat can be a bit daunting, let’s not forget, different rules for different states. (Hong Kong is still living in the 70’s era with this rule.)
Australian police take no prisoners. (Well let’s hope that’s not exactly the case) but you get my gist – getting it wrong on the road will result in very large fines and more. Parking in the wrong spot, the wrong way round, at the wrong time, can get you in a great deal of bother.
There are more signs telling you how not to do it than actual places to park, so figuring it out is a bit like solving the Rubik’s cube. Headache. Rules for talking on the phone while driving are (rightly so) more brutal than I can ever remember. Just make sure you cannot even see your phone whilst driving, not even a teensy, tiny bit….if you ask me, your best bet is to lock it in the boot, unless you want to find yourself in a bit of strife that quite frankly, you’ve got buckley’s getting out of!
And there’s a fair bit of road rage going on towards anyone seen not to be following the rules (this I say in contrast to Hong Kong’s ‘one in, all in’ demolition-derby style of driving – if you make a wrong move nobody really cares, because, well, everyone is)! Oh and if you don’t own a four wheel drive, forget it… these big beasts own the roads and you don’t need to be within cooee of a mustering property to drive one with sheer ‘people-moving’ pride.
While you’re cruising the streets, bonus – there’s a good chance you will see the national icon on display, the fabled ‘kangaroo’ roams freely here. Maybe not in the middle of the city, but it doesn’t have to be the middle of Woop Woop either. These critters happily hang out in your backyard, along with possums, echidnas, snakes, wombats and Koalas.
So road trip done and dusted, back home, unscathed it’s time for a barbie. Australians and BBQ’s are unanimous and I forgot just how much this timeless Aussie tradition is practiced…rain, hail or shine. Tucker will more often than not involve throwing a few snags on the barbie (not complete without a few stubbies from the Esky – vinos for the girls).
Settling back, it’s time to put the telly on. Down Under watching the box is tops and not just for the ads (of course I’m only comparing it to my options which mostly include channels in Chinese). Politics is especially entertaining. These days I don’t get to see a lot of government action and it was hard to miss that the bickering inside and outside parliament house is only gaining more and more momentum, more often than not involving trivial issues, like say, the Prime Minister’s budgie smugglers and chest hair. At least we know, democracy is alive and well in Straya, where it’s considered a dead-set crime not to take the p*ss out of the government.
So after a big night in, note to self: don’t stay up too late, cos people get up bloody early ’round here…sparrow’s fart they call it. While it takes Hong Kong until about 10am to warm up (much to this relieved night owl) at 530am you’ll wake up to the sound of traffic roaring through the streets. It’s game on Australia! And yes, just like on Home & Away, many of these people will be home by 5pm, possibly enjoying a surf down at the local. So having reacquainted myself with my old flame, I left with a new appreciation of the Lucky Country.
Australia still doesn’t sell alcohol in supermarkets, but no worries, these days there’s usually a bottle-o next door!
Back home in the Oriental Pearl, I found myself having a giggle when Australia Day came around – admittedly feeling a little pull in the pit of my stomach when I saw a myriad of red, white and blue flags, draped, stamped, worn as head pieces, capes, fence backdrops – you name it, amongst a sea of faces painted green and gold, giant pool floaties, resembling thongs and lamingtons aplenty – ringing out across my social media platforms. Posts about all those things that make you a fair dinkum Aussie were jumping off pages from a proudly patriotic place. It was still the same old dinky-di Australia I’d left behind three years ago, but like all things, with time comes change.
Australia you’ve added a few extra wrinkles, gained a few new additions and experienced some personal growth …. probably not unlike myself.
And bloody oath, you’ve still got a rip-snortin’ sense of humour!
Strewth: exclamation, mild oath
Mate: friend – but can also be aggressive – depending on the context.
So, where the bloody hell are you?
Boardies: men’s shorts
Thongs: flip flops
Dead set: genuine
Have a dig: have a go
Dog's breakfast: a real mess
Scorcher of a day: hot
Bottle-o: liquor shop
Within cooee: nearby
Woop Woop: somewhere in the middle of nowhere
Sparrow's fart: getting up very early
Buckley's: no chance
Down Under: Australia
Lucky Country: Australia
Crikey: astonishment, disbelief
Budgie Smugglers male swimming costume
Australia Day: official national day of Australia
Fair Dinkum: true, genuine
True Blue: patriotic towards Australia
Cheers: goodbye, thank you or good luck
The middle of whoop whoop: nowhere
Stubbies: a 375ml. beer bottle
Slip, Slop, Slap: put sunscreen on
Esky: Large insulated food/drink container for picnics, barbecues etc.
Lamingtons: a dessert of Australian origin.
Dinky-Di: the real thing
Home and Away: World famous Australian television program.
by Mint Mocha Musings blogger Nicole Webb.
Nicole was a Journalist and News Reader with Sky News Australia for a decade before making the life changing move to Hong Kong with her hotelier husband.
Mum to hyped up blondie Ava, Nicole has swapped the news desk and microphone for a change table and nappy bag but is still enjoying the best of both worlds, freelancing as a Journalist, Presenter, Master of Ceremonies and Media Trainer. Her expat journey to date has been filled with plenty of intriguing and humorous tales. Check out her blog Mint Mocha Musings and on Twitter @nicoledwebb
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