AUSTRALIA, after a while
Dear G, B and E
** Written back in June, just found on my iPad **
I haven’t written anything on my travels this year. A couple of reasons I suppose:
– It is now late June and the trip I am on now, to Shanghai, is only my third this year, so travel has been light (comparatively, for me); we had the arrival of Eleanor and all that goes with having a new baby (at first she was quite a handful and has since turned into a very reasonable infant);
– I have forgotten about this enterprise, only recently remembered when your Auntie Claire said that I should write about my travels and reminded me that I should write this to you.
I went to Korea in April and visited some cities I hadn’t been to before. I was with a Korean friend, Daniel Shin, who also has a young family. He’s been to our house, you might remember him, he’s a thoughtful chap and quite wise. He really opened my eyes to Korean culture, especially business culture and it makes me realise how simple the UK is in comparison (for someone from the UK I guess). Most of the world, including developed countries like South Korea, still depend on favours, good will and influence to operate and not straight forward, open transactions. For example, a guy wanted me to do a favour for his daughter, next thing I know he is taking me to a fancy restaurant because he feels that is expected. Every favour has a price. I went to a place called Cheonan that is famous for making walnut cookies and met their city council. If by the time you read this Nottingham is the twin city of Cheonan then it is my fault. It is very different to Seoul, more gritty and perhaps less of a façade, it felt more honest but in parts verging on seedy. Maybe that is just every provincial city in the world.
In May I went with my boss to Australia. I hadn’t been for 15 years (when your mum and me travelled the world together) and was excited to see it again and catch up with almost all my close friends who have decided to move there. One thing I hadn’t remembered is how far away it is. 7.5 hours to Dubai, change planes, then 15 hours to Melbourne. When I looked at the journey map and we were over Perth on the West coast, we still had another 5 hours to fly. Big ol’ place.
First stop Melbourne. When your mother and I visited all that time ago it was the same time of year and the same type of weather, like an early spring in the UK. I got a break in the rain and ran along the Yarra river in the morning, catching the cycling and running commuters coming the other way. The character of the city with its Victorian architecture, low rise sprawl and covered arcades really struck me. It is a charming city and that is how I think of it. Food culture is huge and I ate very well, catching up with my old work mate Simon Hall who treated me to a traditional “Parma” (chicken schnitzel baked in tomato and cheese, this one actually topped with smoked kangaroo!) and some great wine. I took the tram through the suburbs and through the south bank, taking in a visiting Van Gogh exhibition.
Next stop Sydney. If Melbourne is charming, I’d forgotten how stunning Sydney is. I was picked up by my old School friend Hugh, who I haven’t seen in 9 years. He married an Aussie and now has an Aussie baby. We went to uncle Buzz’s flat and had a great night at a local hotel (pub) drinking scooners (2/3 pints) of various overpriced beer (lager) followed by much catching up over pizza. In the morning I got the true Sydneysider experience: run down to the beach, work out at the beach gym, jump in the ocean and look at the amazing fish then walk to cool cafe for avocado on toast and a whole lot of smugness, surrounded by the beautiful people in their “leisurewear” (everyone dresses as if they are on their way to yoga class). A similar day on Sunday, catching up with old friends who are enjoying life in that amazing city (but still missing the UK). I took a bus to the harbour for a walk at sunset on my own just to take it all in and saw the biggest cruise ship I’ve ever seen. Fun to wave at the passengers as they floated by. I’m still impressed by the boldness of the Sydney Opera House, that the city took the step to make something so controversial so central to their identity to be recognised the world over. I love it as a piece of architecture and how different it looks up close compared to the view we all know. I explored the angles for a while and marvelled that we humans can design and build such things.
Not much to say about Brisbane as I was only there for a day and a night, but the people were lovely and it seems pretty cool, if not a little provincial in direct comparison to Sydney. Again, I walked the river and got envious of all the boats and outdoorsiness of an average Aussie’s life, but then I remembered melting here in 35 degree heat last time and quickly got over it.
Returned home to a holiday in Norfolk with my favourite people (you). We had a great week visiting beaches, eating ice cream and adventuring. We didn’t manage to catch any crabs off Cromer pier but we did have a lot of fun.