She stood on the busy street corner of Castlereagh and King Streets in the downtown area of Sydney, Australia, the gigantic skyscrapers around her reaching up to the cloudless, blue sky. Holding back her wavy brown hair with one hand to keep it from blowing in her face, her pink plaid button up blouse billowing out around her from the gusty winds that day, she smiled at the camera.
A kind stranger had offered to take her photo to mark the moment in history of her standing in an iconic city, unknown to him the reason for her visit. So many people in this city, walking, driving, and riding public transport, all busy with places to be. Each has a story.
Tourists with their selfie sticks, backpacks and sunglasses, office workers in suits, pencil skirts, or business casual attire, shoppers in skinny jeans and Converse shoes, and construction workers in their Hard Yakka pants, fluoro vests and hard hats. Buses, taxis, cars, bicycles and pedestrians all clamoring in organized chaos for a place in the famous city.
The 20-year-old woman, who was originally from a small city in the Midwest (population 100,000) but now currently residing in Brisbane, Australia, was there on a mission. She’d just finished her interview with the US Consulate, which was part of the process to apply for permanent resident status in the USA for her husband, so they could move there shortly.
Having been in Sydney a year before with her 6-month-old baby boy for his own interview for US citizenship at the consulate, this area was slightly familiar. But this time, she was child-free and had an extra hour plus to spend.
There was excitement in her heart as she took in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Slight anxiety at being alone and mindful of the time crunch before she had to be at the airport for her 1.5-hour flight home to Brisbane.
The first time she was here with her baby, she barely had enough time after the interview for the cab ride back to the airport and the check in on her flight home. There was no time for sightseeing, plus, carrying a baby around with no stroller would’ve been so difficult and stressful if he got fussy and hungry.
She’d planned to travel on foot the one mile to the Sydney Harbour to see for herself the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. After all, this was probably going to be the last time she would be in this city, one must make the most of the time, however short it is.
She headed East on King Street, walking past shopping centres, the Supreme Court building, and through Queen’s Square, chuckling to herself at the black robed and bewigged barrister walking past one of the food stands nearby.
That’s not a sight you’d see in the USA, at least the white wig part. It reminded her of a period drama set in Victorian England. He looked like an actor from one of those movies and seemed out of place in the modern 21st century.
She had a map she’d picked up at the airport to guide her to the harbour, but she asked a few locals anyway just to make sure she was headed in the right direction.
(When you’re from the Northern Hemisphere, living south of the Equator totally throws your sense of direction off. You tend to think North is South and South is North. It just feels wrong inside your gut. The same goes for them if they come north).
“Excuse me?” she asked. “Will this street take me to the Harbour? Am I going the right direction?”
“Yes, love. You head north on Macquarie Street, it runs into the Opera House…you can’t miss it.”
She turned north onto Macquarie Street, drinking in all the buildings and businesses. The hustle and bustle. Walking with the flow of quite a few other pedestrians. Stopping at traffic lights to wait their turn for a green light.
She walked past the Mint, Parliament House and State Library. Snapping photos of the buildings along the way. Oh, the history that took place here! The structures were beautifully crafted. An interesting mix of modern and old.
As she drew closer to the Sydney Opera House, she was giddy with the reality of actually being here in the flesh! The Opera House was massive in person. Not like in the movies. The architecture was truly amazing. The building looked like a ship with white sails floating on a peninsula in the harbour. But up close you could see the exterior was made up of millions of glazed ceramic tiles, like a mosaic.
Looking off to her left, she admired the Harbour Bridge with its curved arch and twin Australian flags flying from the top. She paused several times to take photos with her digital camera. Joining the groups of other tourists also pausing along the railing above the quay to take photos of the majestic bridge.
Once again, she found strangers to be quite helpful in offering to take her photo for her. Her selfie game was not strong. The digital cameras from the early 2000’s were not very selfie friendly and you couldn’t tell if you cut your head out of the shot as you aimed at yourself and pushed the button.
Seagulls flew over the water in the distance. She giggled as she remembered the Pixar movie, “Finding Nemo”, and the annoying seagulls loudly cawing, “MINE! MINE! MINE!” in the Sydney Harbour scenes.
“So this is where that was supposed to have taken place,” she thought.
She turned around to face the city again, trying to visualize which one of the high-rise office buildings could’ve housed the dentist’s office from the movie.
“Hmm, too many to choose from.”
Walking around the perimeter of the Opera House, she observed it from all angles, got some selfies with it, and headed back the way she’d come. She planned to use the train this time to get back to the airport.
On the return walk, she picked up her pace, walking south along the Quay to the Wharf. She boarded the train at Circular Quay station. She felt so sophisticated using the train. They don’t have such well-established public transportation where she’s from in the States. Buses are about the only public transport in her hometown and even then, they don’t travel in the suburbs where she grew up.
She arrived at the airport with time to spare. Checked in to her flight and found a seat to wait at the gate. As she settled in, she listened to people talking all around her; the Aussie (pronounced: ‘Ozzie’) accent still being so novel. Her own “accent” stuck out wherever she went. Having lived in Australia for two years by this time, she had picked up a slight Aussie twang, but she still sounded so American to her own ears.
She overheard three older people talking; two of them, with an American accent. It always jumped out at her. Her ears homed in on it whenever she heard it. Having a minority accent in this country, she made a habit of approaching those people whenever she came across them and asking them where they were from. It was so exciting to hear their hometowns and what brought them here. This time was no exception.
She spoke up across the row of seats, “Hi! Are you guys from America?”
“Yes,” the husband and wife replied.
“Me too!!!” she exclaimed. “I’m from the Kansas City, Missouri area. But I married a guy from Brisbane, Australia and live here now.” She went on to tell them why she was in Sydney and how her husband and she had met and asked what brought them to Australia.
The couple were also from the Midwest area, but were on holiday visiting their friend from New South Wales (her memory is sketchy about the details). The Australian man knew of her husband’s family distantly through church.
What a small world. Imagine running into someone who knows of your in-laws, at the same gate in an airport, in a city thousands of miles from where you live?!
One thing she’s discovered over the years of traveling, a long-distance romance, living overseas, and being part of a church that’s located worldwide, is the world is smaller than we think. Yes, the geographic distance is still the same. But modern day traveling, the internet, and cell phones sure make things feel closer, more connected and convenient to foster those far away relationships.
She flew home, reveling in the sights she’d seen, proud of herself for accomplishing this big step in adulthood- traveling alone on an airplane and navigating a new city in a still slightly-foreign-to-her country. Glad to be done with the kinda scary task of facing the immigration officials again. But so pleased she’d faced the fear anyway.