Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Downhearted down under

We went to Australia for Christmas. I had heard great things about Australia. Two French friends had lived there and raved about the cool lifestyle and Brits loved it. We flew to Brisbane and then took a short flight and boat trip to Lindeman Island, where we would spend a week on a Club Med resort for Christmas.

Our first impressions were negative, after empting our snacks into the bin at the airport and losing our luggage. The service staff seemed particularly bad-tempered. Rules were rules and we were thrown out of our hotel room at 10am, forbidden to snorkel without signing a million forms, and not allowed in a bar after 9pm with the children (something we always did in Asia, where kids are accepted till midnight). But the kids were happy and enjoyed the Australian entertainment and Santa arriving on the 25th on a sea-plane loaded with gifts. I hoped that Christmas would be more ‘English’ and I was pining for roast turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce with Christmas pudding. But this was a true Australian Christmas and it was an open-air barbecue and beer in the sunshine. Most fellow holidaymakers from Europe were delighted to be on the beach on Christmas Day, but we wished we had gone to Bali or Thailand.

We flew back to Sydney and rented a car and did a road-trip around the Blue Mountains. Here we saw English-style houses and ate great fish and chips. The children loved visiting the caves, trekking in the blue-green forests and petting a kangaroo and koala at the zoo. In the local supermarket I bought Christmas crackers (glossy cardboard tubes with a small gunpowder strip that bangs when two people pull it open and a gift falls out). This is typically English but had the effect of making me very homesick!

Back in Sydney for the last few days we met up with friends from KL, Sasi and Bruno, who were also there on holiday. We ate Chinese food in Chinatown together and Sasi confided that she missed Asia and would not want to live in Australia. I agreed that it simply did not impress me either. Had I become a snobbish asiaphile? Or was it because we were so used to the soft kind of smiling friendly tourism around Asia? We had had high expectations and the reality didn’t live up it. But what was reality? Why were we not happy when millions of tourists loved Australia? Would we ever be able to leave Asia now and go back to normal life?

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