The Kindness (or not) of Strangers
Firstly, I have to refer to my last post The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Our missing bag was found, left behind by baggage handlers in Sydney for reasons unknown. I was so relieved to have it all back that I didn't ask questions. I felt guilty for assuming the worst but my husband assures me that bags do get stolen all the time, especially at this time of year, especially in Sydney.
It's also not uncommon for people to assume the worst in big cities. One of the things we both noticed about Sydney was how angry people were. It feels as if the whole city is simmering away quietly and at any moment anyone could snap. People aren't helpful generally and they don't smile at each other in the street. This came as a shock to me when I first moved there as I grew up in a town where everyone smiled at each other or said hello. In the city, if you do show any signs of friendliness it's instantly assumed that you are a loon and to be avoided at all costs. There were quite a few times where I was struggling with the stroller and trying to open a door and no one offered to help. One man went so far as to pretend he was on the phone and shot through the door behind me. Others avoided my eye and chose to linger behind until someone else helped or I managed to get the door open on my own. I wondered if these people were afraid to help in case I took it as a sign that I could engage with them on some level, or if they were worried I'd get upset if they tried to help, perhaps I might snap "I can do it myself!" Whatever the cause, it bothered me and made me realise how helpful and friendly people are here in HK in comparison.
We spent one afternoon at Coogee beach, catching up with friends over fish and chips. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon and we were enjoying ourselves immensely until I was hit across the back of the head by a drunken idiot stumbling around. We were all instantly on the defensive ready for a fight, too quick to adopt the local mentality. We brushed the guy off but noticed several police officers wandering around and the riot squad vehicles parked outside the local pub; all prepared for an evening of violence and people generally making a nuisance of themselves. I don't remember it being that bad when I first moved there 10 years ago and I had to ask myself why people were so aggressive and angry. It is such a beautiful place and Australians are so very lucky, so why isn't anyone happy? Our friends were complaining that many of their friends with kids had moved away, either to the outer suburbs or out of Sydney altogether. They attributed exorbitant property prices and the high cost of living to this exodus, with many others wanting to be closer to family. I wondered if people in the city are so on edge because it's a city of migrants? So many people move to Sydney from overseas or from smaller towns to study, to work or to play, leaving behind loved ones and support networks. I've mentioned in previous posts (Like this one) how difficult it was for me to make friends there and I think this is true for so many others.
I mentioned in my post Now You're One that J and I were sick in Sydney while we were on our own. We had D's parents helping us out but it was still very tough. I can't imagine living there, without the friends or help that I have here, and having to do it all on my own. I'd be pretty angry and on edge too and I think it'd be too easy to take it all for granted and forget how great a country it is. Being ripped off at the supermarket every day and having no one open doors for you would certainly wear anyone down after a while.
Despite all that I did have a lovely time, and it was very, very hard for me to leave. We left Sydney after a week and went to see my family in a little town called Cooma. There has been drought-breaking rain this summer and the landscape was green and gorgeous, the rivers were overflowing and the grass was waist high. It reminded me of my childhood when it was always like that. It was one of the best visits home I've had in years. I stayed with my Nanna and she showed me old photos and filled me in on the family tree. My parents spoiled us rotten and loaded us up with so many Christmas presents I had to take an extra bag. The sky was so so blue and the air was fresh, it made me homesick in a way I never thought possible. I miss being able to look out in any direction and see nothing but land and sky, I miss the horizon! I could so easily have rented a house for the summer and stayed put for a few months, but I took the advice of a good friend who grew up in the same town. He always says; it's better to leave when you feel like you could stay, rather than wait until you feel like you've stayed too long.
So we trekked back to Sydney with far too many bags in tow, and I had a minor panic attack at the airport when I realised that arriving in Sydney felt like coming home. Everywhere I went it was easy and familiar. Even negotiating the ridiculous traffic didn't bother me. In the end I found some really helpful and friendly people, all too willing to lend me a hand with my bags or the baby and restore my faith in the kindness of strangers. We spent 24 hours in glorious Bondi and caught up with a few people before I had to accept that it was time to leave. If it wasn't for the texts from my husband pleading with me to get on the plane, and the fact that we were flying back to Hong Kong in business class, I might still be there.