I’m back where I started 11 months ago and the only thing that’s changed is me.
Leaving Chiang Mai on Monday was just another flight, just another airport and I guess didn’t really even register as a “this is over” moment as far as my travels for 2016 was concerned. I’d tried not to dwell on it but the shadow of real life was a threatening figure looming over my sometimes forced positivity.
Fake it til you make it, remember?
So my AirAsia X plane out of Chiang Mai was 3.5 hours late, which gave me about 15 minutes to make my connection to Sydney at Kuala Lumpur International – just enough time to run to thru the transfer hall, 2 security checkpoints, and quite literally to the opposite end of the terminal. I made it without breaking a sweat. Settling into my economy seat, surrounded by young families and crying babies, it occurred to me how lucky that I made the plane. It also dawned that there was no way my bag would and so I had a 7 hour flight to prepare myself for the inevitable.
Arrival in Australia was a bleary, early morning red-eye experience as I was jolted awake by a dazzling dawn over Lake Ayre and its tributaries, which was either full of water or deathly dry (I couldn’t tell), reflecting the early morning sunlight and melting my corneas as I yawned and glanced out the window.
Drifting in and out of snooze mode, I was aware of the aircraft coming to life around me but tried to imagine I was elsewhere – back in Chiang Dao listening to the morning rain, or in Tunis listening to the 5am call to prayer. Here the 5am call was a crying baby and a hawking cough from my neighbor.
Something inside me was off but I didn’t catch it at the time.
Flying in over Sydney I usually get a patriotic buzz about seeing tiny Botany Bay, the miniature Harbour Bridge and the toy Opera House sweeping by, but this time it left me cold. Flat. Nothing was coming through and I was completely numb.
“Weird” I thought, gazing out at the city below and wrote it off to lack of sleep. Sydney grew larger and more substantial, until finally the wheels hit tarmac and with an anticlimactic puff of smoke I was back.
Sydney Airport was as bad as I’d remembered – expansive, crowded, unfriendly; efficient but largely uninteresting. Smiling photoshopped Australians glared at me from the advertising posters, inviting me to come and swim with dolphins, or climb a mountain. Customer service, politeness and good manners vanished. Anonymous Uniforms yelled rudely at people. Airport security, black domed cameras and warning signs were everywhere. “Don’t do this – Don’t do that. Don’t stand here. Warning Warning Warning. Fear, Fear, Fear…The terrorists are coming”. I could already feel the doeskin jackboots of fear and oppression that New South Wales wears proudly pressing down on my throat and chest.
Why so much paranoia? So many rules and regulations? After the freedoms of the road, this was becoming stifling already.
As some aussie ex-pat army guy told me in a dentists waiting room in Thailand a while back, “We are a nation of laws and need all this to safeguard ourselves from the terrorists.”
No dude sorry Australia isn’t a “nation of laws”, that’s stolen from America and you are confused. Australia seems to becoming a backward nation of ignorant, drunken, racist fools masquerading as “aussie larrikins”, of slow expensive internet, extraordinary taxation, human rights abuses, poverty, homelessness, corruption, overpriced real estate, and rubbish overrated food. Of course I didn’t actually SAY this to him – but I thought it at him real hard while smiling politely and trying to disengage.
Fingers crossed, I waited in the baggage area for my backpack. Who knew? I might have gotten lucky and the bag made it. A waify Japanese lady had the gall to take out her phone in the baggage claim area and a pompous slicked-back-hair uniformed guy (who could’nt even be bothered to go over to her or check that she spoke English) screamed at her across the hall to “put the phone down” like it was an automatic weapon or a knife and he was Supercop. She of course ignored him which further fueled his rage, and so the saga continued.So rude and unnecessary. The carousel stopped, the passengers for the next flight started arriving. Still my bag didn’t appear.
Naturally the airline had lost my bag somewhere between Chiang Mai and Sydney.
After 11 months of travel through countless dodgy airports and several dangerous countries, it took an Australian crew to lose my bag.
Coming in through Immigration/Customs was easy (electronic passports make it a 5 minute thing) after which I had to do the mandatory “lost my bag” reporting at a desk where the Aussie “larrikin” (who couldn’t be bothered to tuck in his shirt or brush his hair) barely smiled, nor glanced at me or even said “G’day Mate”.
So feeling strangely calm – numb – I wandered through the airport, caught a train into Central Station, and listened to the sudden clutter of English conversation that invaded my headspace. It’s amazing how much you tune in and out to other peoples conversations. The luxury of not hearing English spoken everywhere was gone and the Aussie accent was like a powerdrill boring painfully into my brain.
It still didn’t feel real. I was in a homecoming state of denial and culture shock.
Of course Sydney started picking my pockets immediately : $20 for an Opel card, $4 train fares, $3 for bottled water, 2 bananas and a takeaway coffee $10. My last $100 was disappearing fast.
I picked a dirty cheaparse hostel ($34 a night) close to Central, went into Police Headquarters in Parramatta to pick up some gear for work next week (meeting my new managers and doing some schmooze groundwork for my return to work) and then wandered into the city to meet my good friend Kate for a drink at some inner city bars.
Walking between the bars I realised how pretty Sydney can be, especially at night. This time of year is lovely and for a change the city didn’t disgust me. It was a fun way to end the evening but after 3 drinks ( $30+ – thanks Kate) I was slightly hammered.
The next morning, after stepping over a few random backpackers on the hostel floor, a 7.18am (what an odd time) train to Dubbo – 6 hours – would give me time to reframe all the negativity that I’d been projecting over the last 24 hours. It was time well spent.
Some meditation, reframing, read my books, peace. ahhh.
6 hours later.
Alighting from the train at Dubbo train station just after lunch was very, very strange.
As I walked down to Church Street Cafe to get my regular Americano, nothing had changed: the streets, the smells, the sounds – all instantly familiar. Little gangs of aboriginal kids roamed the streets on bikes and scooters, a few scattered drunks were camped under the shady trees in Victora Park, a young kid called me a “white cunt” before I’d even made it to the main street.
Ahhh. Now it felt real. Too real.
It was like the past year hadn’t happened.
I bumped into many people I knew and they seemed genuinely happy to see me, which was a welcome surprise and helped. But I’m struggling. Everything reminds me of Jen here. So far, at least. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so much. The last few years came flooding back. The house, walking past Jens old work, then my workplace, my normal walking path home. Magpies. Jasmine. Hayfever. Cats Eye burrs and stickers, familiar and painful. Sorting through all this and discarding what will hurt the most is going to be hard. It was good to see the housemates though and the weather is great.
I went to see Mum in the Hi Care facility and she recognised me at least, but the dementia now has upped its game and robbed her of coherent speech – her tongue is constantly flicking in and our making everything messy – communication is hard but I think she understood I was back.
Coming back has been harder than I’d imagined and I’d drank myself to sleep last night with the last of my duty free Jamesons, feeling adrift in the world.
This feeling is still with me today, and its Thursday. A deep detachment and numbness that I can’t shake. I don’t belong here.
I know now that this place isn’t my home, Dubbo and Australia.
I am not where I’m supposed to be.
This isn’t a homecoming: its just another stage of a larger journey I’d never realised I was on.
Early days yet I guess. Lets see how work goes on Monday.
**airline found my bag!!!!! shipping it to Dubbo from KL “in a few days”. Fingers crossed eh?