As our airplane started its descend, my excitement rose. Not only because I would arrive in the country which I would call home for the next few years, but especially because my butt was in need of rest after almost a day and night of flight. Sydney’s landing platform extends into the water, the different fingers extended out somewhat like the palm of an open hand. It’s a friendly gesture, and soon expanded upon by friendly Aussies uttering sincere greetings of “Welcome to Australia, mate.”
A chatty taxi driver brought us from Sydney Airport to our accomodation in Wollongong. The taxi was a free service from the university. I pretended I wasn’t falling asleep in the car while my wife interrogated the driver about driving on the left side of the road, speed limits, and whether or not most cars in the former colony are manually geared or automatic (the latter). Quickly the metropolis receded and civilization gave way to running hills, lush green landscapes, and the promise of a new life. My eyes fell shut for a moment.
After an hour of driving, we arrived at Kooloobong Village. This is were we would stay for the next couple of months. While the taxi driver and I unloaded the whole of our earthly possessions—which consisted of three large suitcases and two smaller ones for the both of us—my wife was jumping around cross-legged, arms down. Unsurprisingly, she decided to run ahead to see the inside of the building, more specifically the little room. So while she did that I stood outside with a plethora of suitcases, in the dark, in a strange country, surrounded by both jungle and civilization. The sounds of strange creatures crept upon me from the impenetrable bush. Finally, some alone time.
The next week was mostly made up of optimistic wakefulness, followed by seemingly random bursts of extreme tiredness. Jetlag is like a ninja. Everytime I thought I had defeated it, I suddenly got just a little bit tired. Often I then decided to take a quick nap, say at four in the afternoon, cause surely, that couldn’t be so bad? An alarm is set so I’d be up in time for dinner. Seven hours later I would wake up, having slept through all the alarms, wide awake, and the night just about to start.
Two days after our arrival, right in the middle of our jetlag-haze, I went to a guest lecture, both for the lecture as well as to meet my new colleagues. They seemed like a nice bunch. Still, my main mission during the drinks after was to try and not trip over myself and hug the enticing carpet with my sleeping, soon-to-be-drooling face. It would’ve made quite an impression to be sure, but I could’ve lived without the horrible nicknames such an act would invite. Fortunately, I succeeded.
After conquering our jetlag, we set out to explore Wollongong itself and discovered several things. First of all, it is hard to get used to looking to the right first when crossing the road. Fortunately, at most cross-overs the Australians were so kind as to place “Look right ->” in shiny white letters on the edge of the sidewalk. Secondly, the sound the traffic lights make when they turn green is a direct copy of the sound the spaceship in Space Invaders makes when it hits an alien. It makes me wonder if that is the Ozzy government’s attempt at subliminally warning pedestrians when they cross the road not to get hit themselves. The combination of unconscious manipulation and warning letters must mean that a lot of unfortunate foreigners kissed cars when they crossed streets, blissfully looking to the left first. I have so far avoided that fate, although I concede my wife might have helped me out with that once or twice.
The third thing to mention is the free bus shuttle system. Line 55A takes a clockwise route through town, 55C a counter-clockwise one. It is very nice, allowing us to go to the mall for free. It also allows everyone else to go to the mall for free. This leads to a daily dilemma when one waits at the bus stop: shall I take the relatively quiet seeming 55C, even though it takes longer to drive to the mall, or shall I wait a while longer for 55A, running the risk of drowning in a stream of young families with baby strollers? I am a strict adherent to the law of Murphy, so I do my best to make the wrong decision as often as possible.
A parting thought: I suspect the Australians have invented time travel. The three-pinned power plugs they use have a distinct similarity to the targeting lasers used by the Predator in the homonymous Schwarzenegger movie. Indeed, it takes little imagination to see a cloaked alien hunter, jumping from tree to tree in the jungle that is ever invading the university campus. The plugs have been in use for nearly a century though, so the most likely explanation seems to me that some savvy bush-engineers made a time travel device, travelled back in time and made sure this design was decided upon. I will continue my search for the device while I am here, and will post here from the future if I succeed.
Photo credit for the airplane wing bathing in a sunset goes to Lies Bruines.