I have so much to say about Australia.
But I’m also on a 15-hour time difference jetlag, that apparently equates to little sleep and little coherence, so I’m going to list this one out:
1. It was love at first sight. The minute I walked outside and looked around, my heart went “I’m gonna like you.”
2. There’s a really nice vibe. Something that feels good and relaxed, like everything is working out. Everyone seems happy and welcoming. A blend of productivity and positivity.
3. The food is amazing, and it’s everywhere. It’s hard walking 20ft in the city in the morning without running into a little coffee or breakfast spot.
4. It’s not quite the same there in terms of food standards. You don’t really have to plan outings on what’s best: “this place has the best coffee.” or “this place is the most popular doughnut spot.” Whatever we picked at random always ended up great. It all just seems good there.
5. An astonishing number of places serve halal food.
6. Didn’t get to try too many Aussie products but the juice, the jam, and oh my god Butter Menthol—all so good.
7. The fruit stands sell things like nuts, fresh figs, dates and mandarins. The mandarins. I don’t touch any peel-able orange family member because of the scent it leaves on my hands, and because I don’t enjoy them.
I would spend my time with peeling mandarins in Sydney—it left the most amazing scent. And they were so, so good. We bought them at almost every fruit stand we found.
8. Trite I know, but the accent! I would listen so intently to people talking. Worked on mine the whole week.
9. Cashiers are super strict about credit card signing. You can’t just sign for anyone’s card. You and the card better match. And they will make sure of it.
10. Taxi drivers are strict too. You must wear a seat belt—you there in the back seat, you too. Some taxis carry car seats in the trunk as well.
11. The toilets in public places do not flush automatically.
12. They sure know how to make coffee.
13. And they know how to make tea, which I feel is even harder to come by in the US specifically.
14. Pedestrians follow crosswalk lights really, really well. Even if there’s no traffic coming, no one moves until the green man flashes on.
15. Water conservation is important. Hotels leave a notecard in the bathroom instructing you to hang your towels up to dry if they don’t need replacing, so that their most valuable resource can be conserved. Also, two flush buttons exist on toilets. One has more water flow and one has less water flow, respective for the situation.
16. People give really good, accurate directions, even for long distances. It’s hard to get lost if an Aussie has directed you somewhere.
17. People are in such a good mood while at work—out in the cold during construction, loading baggage onto a plane, standing at concierge, making food, driving taxis, everywhere.
18. The people running tours are wonderful. They teach you a lot about where you are in a way that makes you naturally and quickly acquainted. They know their audiences and won’t let you get bored, and they have great communication skills. They share history and facts that are interesting.
Sometimes they make it personal and share things about themselves that are relevant, like the bus driver in Cairns who was describing that the Queenslander homes typically all have a snake or two in the ceiling during summer season. He told us about his own snake that watches sports with him on the sofa, and that he works as a professional snake remover.
They’re also honest, like the glass bottom tour guide who told us that the reef we were riding over is basically dead. And that other reefs are much more plentiful. He wasn’t negative about it though. He explained why this occurred in the first place and how it can be the foundation to future habitations.
Even touristy things become valuable experiences in Oz.
19. Love the large open wall-size windows in cafes and restaurants.
20. Love that birds fly in and out of restaurants and nibble on leftovers before taking flight again.
21. Tour buses have hardwood floors. It’s not necessary, just seemed like a nice use.
22. Travel agencies and people that will actually help—and not scam you—do exist.
23. Love seeing grown men licking an ice cream cone on the way back from work or class.
24. Had passionfruit ice cream—it had pieces of actual passionfruit in it.
25. The Virgin Australia airline. Fabulous.
26. Checking in and security for flights, even international departure, was such a breeze.
27. The variety of landscapes, especially those hills outside Melbourne. So beautiful.
28. The mix of old and new architecture.
29. The amount of color and colored glass/plexiglass used in buildings. Sounds tacky but it wasn’t. They totally have it down. #love
30. Lushness and shade of the large, old trees throughout the city.
31. Noises. Everywhere. Noises of birds, noises of construction, noises of public transport. The noises made it so alive.
32. The little shops, bakeries, chemists (pharmacies), fruit stores, cold stores.
33. The small, adorable houses, with flowers, fences, colored walls—colors like turquoise and periwinkle, one-car space, and different levels.
34. Not too many souvenirs are available.
35. Balconies in apartment buildings have stuff in them like patio furniture. Something about them on the whole felt like those spaces are in use, not just appendages.
36. Shady walkways, small steps, crevices, old palms.
37. Slopes and hills, ups and downs and winding roads.
38. Scents from flowers and plants.
39. The preservation and maintenance of old architecture—buildings, clock towers, etc.
40. Multicultural. We met so many people from so many places, all so proud of their common country.
41. It’s expensive. I wasn’t there long enough to know consumer practices, but it kind of felt like higher prices may possibly yield less frivolous spending.
42. I liked that nothing was neglected. Every cafe, every restaurant, even small coffee corners, displays at the airport, the airports themselves even when small—everything was not only maintained but designed really well. There was an obvious dedication to the design of spaces and everything seemed unique. There was no one style to it. Just packed full of character.
43. The people are kind in a way that leaves you in disbelief. This is the deepest mark Australia made on my mind. Everyone is so nice, in a good mood, helpful. They’re good without having to be. Australians have a way of being there when you’re in dire need, and asking if you need help before you have to ask them for it.We were so fortunate to run into so many people like this.
I have to mention each of them:
Khaled Khan—the Burmese man working at concierge in our first hotel. He became great friends with my dad as they both shared the Burma root, and greeted us with salam every time any of us walked by. He was so friendly and personal, like we were related to him. He also led us to the Myer foodcourt which became a haven for us at some meal times.
The girl at Zara—it was really hard finding places to eat because my cousin and I were in charge and we couldn’t just take the adults to any haphazard spot. Everyone was tired and dinner time was approaching. When we checked out at the cashier, I figured it’s worth a shot to ask if she could help out. She led us to a popular street with restaurants as well as exact directions to what ended up being the best Indian food we’ve had outside. She marked up the map for us too to show us exactly where to go.
Sydney taxi driver—an Afghani man, who responded heartily to my dad speaking to him in Pashto. He talked the entire way, telling us about Sydney and talking about current affairs.
Navdi Singh—the Sikh driver who took us to our hotel in Melbourne. He educated us all about Myki (tram public transport) and how to use it. He told us about Melbourne and that two days wasn’t enough. He was right. And he laughed and talked openly and politely as my dad and I asked him questions about the city.
Pakistani guy at QVM—the Pakistani student who was studying in Melbourne and doing a side job selling fruit at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. He talked really nicely to my aunt, told her about himself, and then gave her a discount on fruit.
The little girl in the bathroom—we stopped to use the restroom outside QVM and my aunt and mom were waiting by the sinks. A little girl, no more than 3 years old, exited a stall and addressed my aunt saying “you can use this stall.” Good manners seem innate there.
Sultan—the relative of a relative of my uncle’s friend who lives in Melbourne. Mind you, my uncle hasn’t seen even this friend in 30 years. Yet upon his friend’s request, his relative’s relative in Sydney took us out on our first evening there. He walked us to Circular Quay, paid for our ferry ride, bought us ice cream, bought us dinner at a Malaysian restaurant, and spent his entire weeknight evening on us.
Nando’s guy—we walked into Nando’s in Melbourne for lunch one day. The owner approached me as I looked at the menu and asked how many of us there were. Then he suggested what sizes we should order for that big of a group, and his recommendation was perfect. Later I went up to him and showed him a picture of Cadbury Breakaways and asked where I could find them. He walked me to the outside of the store and pointed out which direction to walk and where to turn, and when an escalator going down would appear. And if not in that store then the one across it would surely work. Geez. Kill me with kindness.
Sue—the tour coordinator in the lobby of our hotel. We had come only a day before the day we wanted to do a combination tour. She spent time over the phone and talking to us all at once, comparing prices and tour packages, and booked the whole thing for us. Then she explained the entire schedule in detail. She saw me look uncertain and said “No we can’t have that. We are going to go through this again and you will not go away with any doubt in your eyes.” She went through it again. My eyes looked better. She exclaimed in triumph and wished us a good day and tour.
The flight attendant on Virgin Australia flight— I had fallen asleep and woke up a little after the drink cart must have gone by. I pushed the button up above and she appeared right away. I asked if I could have tea. She came back with Tea, a spoon-stir, two sugars and two creamers on a little tray. I always, always need at least two of those things on planes. They just know. They know what you need over there. It’s so perplexingly pleasant.
The lady who gave directions—We got off our first tram ride in Melbourne by Flinders Station. Again my cousin and I were in charge, but it was our first time too. So we had to scramble quick. We stood on a street corner looking at a map, and a lady came to us herself. She assked where we’re headed and led us of course with perfect directions of how to get there.
The lady who yelled at someone for us—We walked through hardware lane in Melbourne in search of dinner. It was lined with little restaurants and restaurant owners approached us to see if we were interested. One of them told my aunt they could provide complimentary wine. I was the only way any of them would know we were Muslim though. A lady and her friend walked by and scolded the host. “You don’t want to offer alcohol to someone wearing a hijab.” I was so surprised. I didn’t expect anyone to know or care, especially a restaurant owner. But this lady was completely intolerant of ignorance. I smiled in shock/gratitude at her, and she gave a nod and ‘ha.’ gesture directed at the host we left behind. Clearly she hadn’t forgiven him just yet.
I had different feelings about Australia, mostly because I didn’t know what it was like at all. It was so different from what I thought. It’s so good and alive. It makes you want to grin and wave, smile at others, be a better person. It makes you want to live again.
Australia, you beaut.