The first impression about Australian currency is that it resembles craft paper – thin, smooth and colourful, with a tiny plastic window in one corner. So that when you hold it up to the light, you not only see the fearsome, handlebar-moustached gentleman on it, but can also the thin-faced, flare-nostrilled man at the money exchange counter, through it. The former gazes into eternity, the latter looks on a bit impatiently, as you pore over the notes, looking for other quaint features.
Currency apart, there’s much to marvel about Australia, as I’ve discovered in the last 2 days that I’ve been here. I’m on a 3-week vacation on the East Coast, ostensibly soaking up the summer sun. I say ‘ostensibly’ because the the summer I was told about, warned about, seems to be as much of a myth as, well, Santa Claus. As we touched down in Sydney, the pilot announced, “The temperature outside is 16 degrees, with light showers.” Having shivered through most of the 7-hour flight from Dubai to Hong Kong and the 9-hour flight from Hong Kong to Sydney, the only thought that kept me going was the toasty warmth of Sydney. I was looking forward to a ‘sunny Christmas’, and the only ‘warm’ clothing I’d packed was a denim jacket, and not a very thick one at that.
The weather may not have lived up to expectations, but the Australians certainly did. Bleary-eyed entrants to the Sydney airport were welcomed by the Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols. At 6:30 in the morning!
Ro, a dear old friend from pre-college days, already had her hands full with 3-year old twins. But she greeted me enthusiastically and the twins looked at me curiously. “Kirk and Jadyn, this is Leela,” she announced.
Shy smiles appeared. “Yeeya,” said Jadyn. “Yaya,” rasped Kirk, faint sounds issuing from the tube in his throat which covered his tracheostomy. His vocal chords hadn’t normalized yet, and he still needed to be fed through a tube in his stomach. But nothing stopped him from being the more boisterous of the two. Still, I couldn’t help marveling at his restraint when both were handed chocolate chip cookie, and Kirk was told gently, “Only to hold, you can’t eat it.” He wasn’t curious about eating anyway; he only wanted whatever Jadyn was being given.
Jet lag kicked in by the time we headed out to the Darling Harbour. But swiveling my head back and forth to take in the sights ensured that I didn’t nod off. Parking the car, we took the tram through stations with names out of an Enid Blyton book – Rozelle Bay, Lilyfield, Paddy’s Market...
Sitting at the Sydney Aquarium café overlooking the harbour, we noticed a well-dressed group of people – the men in black suits, the women in little black and pink numbers. The women shivered and sported gooseflesh as elegantly as possible. Some even turned a bit blue as they looked out for ‘Michelle & Vito’ – the couple who was to be married on one of the cruise boats that go around the harbour.
At another end of Darling Harbour, the Chatwoods High school orchestra performed Christmas carols and jazz medleys to a crowd of delighted children and their parents. Strollers, shoppers and tourists ambling along, spread themselves on the grass in front of the stage to watch the action. The 25-foot tall Christmas tree, aglow and animated, joined the festivities.
Day 1 in Sydney. Not a bad way to start.