Australia has a particularly bad rap for being full of kangaroos and dingoes, but that’s misguided. What it really should get a bad rap for is how expensive things are down there.
Tokyo and London can take a breather; we’re talking about a pair of underpants for $50 in some places. The average breakfast at a decent café can set you back $20; dinner can be quite helpful in reducing the heft of your wallet. But it should be remembered that, as the only island-continent of its kind around, Australia relies heavily on trade and imports. Imports of all kinds: clothing, natural resources and even people.
The constant flux of immigration to Australia probably explains why Australian customs are just as notorious as America’s own system. It was appropriate that I got the full treatment the first time I landed Down Under. In a space of 40 minutes, the customs officer knew my life history, where I worked, what kind of toothbrush I used and could have been my newest best friend (as in, I actually stood there and watched him read my journal). But all for good reason.
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.
Estimates peg Australia’s population at around 23 million people in roughly the same size of America’s landmass. It continues to grow, mainly due to waves of immigrants seeking refuge. The country is relatively healthy and strong, having been buoyed through the financial downturn (in part by China’s success). Wages generally match the expensive cost of living. Each year, when the list of the world’s most livable cities comes out, Australia consistently ranks in the top. When all is said and done, even almost I kind of want to live there.
Truth is, my tryst with the continent really began three years ago, almost the same time I began dallying around Asia. Abroad, people say the best way to learn a language is to date a local; it’s nearly the same for learning about a country. Soon after I disembarked on foreign shores, I jumped into a heady long-distance relationship with an Australian; I was pretty soon getting intimate in more ways than one with more than one thing.
Play with a kangaroo, eat a kangaroo.
For two crazy years while I dated the Dude, I gobbled up factoids and stories about a place I never cared about before. Did you know the constellations are different in the Southern hemisphere? Impassioned conversations about cultural and national differences sparked my imagination. I wondered about things. (Precisely, I wanted to know what kangaroo tasted like. I still don’t know.) And when my foot touched Australian soil for the first time, it was nearly love at first sight.
Let’s get this straight. Australia is a long way from anywhere. From Hong Kong, which is located about four hours north of the equator, it takes about 12 hours of flying to reach the southeastern tips of Melbourne and Sydney. That’s roughly the same time it takes to fly to Los Angeles or even to London. In terms of geography, Australia is a no-man’s land. But for a North American girl living in Asia, it was a respite.
Australians are generally an easygoing bunch, save for a few outliers. Take a Californian like me, stick them Down Under, and you’ll have a grand old time swinging it back with a couple of Fosters (how’s that for a stereotype?). The great coffee culture of Melbourne brought back the pitter-patters of San Francisco. There’s wine that seriously rivals and even surpasses Napa. In fact, if you took the great Los Angeles and San Francisco rivalry, you could easily apply it to Sydney and Melbourne. Truth is, I love it because it reminded me of my own home.
Phillip Island, just a few hours outside of Melbourne.
Then there’s the sweeping coastal lines: Bondi, St. Kilda, Port Philip Bay and the Great Ocean Drive all contain traces that aren’t entirely too unfamiliar. If anything, it’s somewhere halfway between Britain and America. With a whole lot of space. Still the country remains uniquely its own with its own distinct set of problems; and probably because, in the end, Australians really do live far away from everything.
But when you’re far away from someone, it begs the question: Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or does out of sight mean out of mind? As me and the Dude grew apart, it became clear that I was in love with more than just him. In some ways, I didn’t want to let go of the boy because I didn’t want to let go of the continent. Still, it was clear: things weren’t just going to work out, not for the Dude and not for how far away Australia was from everything.
I’d still like to set off into the glorious red center and walk the fine white sands of Perth. A little bit further than that, there’s gorgeous New Zealand waiting to be discovered. And of course, who can forget Fiji? But then there’s the rest – South America, Europe?
It’s a whole lotta world out there, and it’s probably why Australians have one of the greatest traveling cultures there are. Chances are I’ll be back, but Australia has already seen enough of me for the time being. I figure, there’s still a lot of distance to cover, ironically.