Leaving Indonesia after almost a year of Peace Corps was more needed than I could’ve imagined. Right before parting, I was feeling rather irritable at everything here, mostly the food, the rain, the mold and the motorcycles—one, which crashed into me while I rode my bike the day before my trip. (I’m fine, it was very minor.)
This is not unusual. Every month I find myself reaching a limit of dealing with all the differences and mostly, the isolation. Reaching that limit, and thus the irritability, indicates it’s time for a break—usually with a trip into Surabaya—but for the first time it was to a place outside of Indonesia.
The journey was very long. One bus ride, 2 taxis, 3 plane rides and 4 time zones later, I finally arrived at my destination: Sydney, Australia.
After a short train ride, I met my friend, Fer, in the city near a payphone, which weirdly, I actually used. Together, we walked down Oxford Street in the early Saturday morning, as I acclimated to the chilly air. Beautiful people jogged by agilely. Barely any cars passed down the wide streets. Tiny raindrops landed on the asphalt.
It was just below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and I was dying. A direct result of what being in 90-degree weather year around will do to you, but aside from that, it was surprisingly easy to fall back into my self outside Peace Corps. This alternate self that fits with this friend from another life, in a place where faded memories are rekindled and new stories are born.
My first days in Sydney were sleepless. Upon arrival—after no sleep throughout the previous two days no less—Fer proposed that we volunteer at the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. In Ecuadorian slang, we have a term for certain friends: acolite. This means the friend is willing and happy to accompany you in anything and everything, and Fer and I are this for each other. It wasn’t a question of whether I would do it, it was a question of: how will I do this with no sleep?
So only a few short hours after landing, we ventured off to manage parade floats in a huge event in downtown Sydney from 1pm until midnight.
Volunteering in this parade earned us tickets to the Mardi Gras Parade After Party, which would have been outrageously expensive otherwise. This party began at midnight, but because I was in desperate need to sleep, we returned home and I slept until Fer awoke me with wine and Shakira. After this, the party was a blur of distinct ambiances, loud electronic music, masses of people pulsating to invigorating beats, and one “award-winning” pizza at 5 in the morning…which brings me to all the things I ate.
When Peace Corps Volunteers are released from their site, they go on a rampage for food, seeking it out and appreciating it at a level only other PCVs could understand. Let me put it this way: I was in Sydney for four days and I can’t even remember how many times I ate. It was glorious to have access to a variety of food that isn’t rice and man, did I take advantage of it.
In between meals, I saw some sights too and they were nearly as good as the food.
The second day in Sydney, Fer and I took a public bus to Bondi Beach and I couldn’t help comparing the stark differences between public transportation in Australia versus Indonesia’s. Both are equally efficient, but both have a completely different feel. (You can debate this for Indonesian transportation, but I always get to where I need to go, and that’s what I call efficient.)
Australia is so perfect and clean. Its aesthetically pleasing constructions meld seamlessly into one another like neatly composed sentences, and in between, famously emphatic monuments stand out like exclamation points on a verbose page.
I couldn’t help viewing the city as a giant theme park, and its transportation was comparable to the trains and shuttles you would find in Disney World, taking you from place to place. (Sydney even rhymes with Disney!)
Beautiful people got on the bus, beautiful people got out. Women dressed in the most stylish clothes chatted on their iPhones, unconcerned for their safety or how much skin could be seen. Happy families laughed and talked, pushing strollers or carrying children on their shoulders. No men smoked nor polluted our shared oxygen. No strangers mounted the buses to ask for money or invade the sonic space with the terrible sounds I refuse to call songs. Instead, a bleach blond boy entered the bus, tugging his surfboard, his wet suit ready to feel the waves.
(This song wouldn’t stop playing in my head.)
I felt bad about this, but after living in Ecuador, New Orleans and now, Indonesia, I couldn’t take Sydney seriously. It was as if I’d stepped into a perfect little world designed by Apple. There was too much order—and I’m conditioned to chaos.
Fer assured me that, beneath the surface, there are many problems in Australia—and I’m sure that there are. No place can be totally “perfect,” but that’s the only side of Sydney I saw.