The first thing you notice is the smell. It’s unfamiliar, yet not disagreeable. That “new car” smell: pungent, yet strangely pleasant.
The air is sharp. It stings the inside of your nostrils and rushes across your face, biting at eyes, cheeks and ears. Growing up in the tropics, stifling heat and air as thick as cement is par for the course, so the crispness is a welcome change.
The silence though is another matter entirely. Where I come from, the cacophony is relentless. Cars. Motorcycles. People. Kuala Lumpur is a hive of perpetual motion, wave after wave of input constantly pounding at you. Here however, the squeaky wheels on my trolley, and a low flying plane are all that break the awkward silence.
Welcome to Australia.
I hop into a cab, and we zip along the freeway. I’m fascinated yet disturbed by the sheer space. I’ve gone from violently lush vegetation, to a comparative barrenness peppered with copper and olive flora. The landscape is a stripped back café racer – bare bones.
My taxi struggles up a hill, and traffic starts to bottleneck. With the old Ford whining, we crest the M1, and I get my first taste of what Sydney locals affectionately dub “The Coathanger”.
I’m not prone to awe, but until you’ve gone across the Harbor Bridge on a perfect summer’s day, neither are you. It’s flawless. I crane my neck to get a proper look out the window. The harbor is a shifting mass of blue hues with silver flecks running playfully across its surface. It’s a stark contrast to the flat, weak-tea-colored waterways of my home. My gaze remains transfixed, even as the cab – paying no heed to my hungry eyes – continues its journey.
An eternity later, we trundle down a narrow road, arriving in what appears to be suburbia. Only it’s odd. There are no walls. No gates. Knee-high fences. Wide-open doors! It’s as though the concept of security doesn’t exist. Or is it unnecessary? I’m confused.
My cab pulls into a driveway, and I’m confronted with parents milling about, as fair-haired youths jostle each other. My heart starts to pound; it feels like I’m having a stroke. Reaching for the door handle, I have a powerful urge to make a mad dash for the motherland’s sweet embrace.
In those split seconds, the reality that an immutable change is about to begin terrifies me. But as the fear of the unknown roars its challenge at me, I refuse to allow myself to be cowed. I swallow the frog in my throat; lick my anxiety-parched lips and wrench on the handle into the deep end