Being a Sydney-sider again

Posted on June 30, 2013

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About a month ago I stood beneath the sails of the Sydney Opera House and watched the Vivid light show flicker across the Museum of Contemporary Art, the P&O Cruise Ship, and the soaring windows of surrounding skyscrapers.

I feel pretty lucky to call this beautiful cityscape home. In the most recent Global Liveability Survey, Sydney ranked in the top ten most liveable cities in the world. Dhaka – the last city I called home – was ranked at the bottom of the list.

So what makes somewhere a great place to live? One website has identified “Blue Zones” around the world where people live longer and stay happier. The Better Life Index ranks indicators like work-life balance, housing and civic engagement to determine the best countries to live in – it also claims that Australians are more satisfied with life than our friends overseas.

Sydney offers stability, good health care, plenty of culture, a clean environment and good education and infrastructure. But there are things that I love and squirm at here. Waking up to see a sheet of blue sky beyond my bedroom window is one of my favourite ways to start the day, but seeing a plane soar through that blue also reminds me I live at the end of the world, disconnected from the rest of the party.

I’ve always argued that the best parts of Sydney are what you won’t find in a guidebook. The Opera House, Darling Harbour, et cetera – they’re all beautiful but they don’t capture the buzz that makes Sydney-siders stay here. Walking past a house party spilling on to the backstreets of Newtown, catching the Manly Ferry on a day when the water is purple-grey like the sky, people-watching at brunch in Balmain: those are a few of the things that make up Sydney’s swagger.

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These are some of the other things I’ve noticed since moving back:

Our garbage doesn’t smell (as much!).

No really, it doesn’t. In Dhaka, my morning walk to work would take me past several large garbage dumps. After breakfast, the smell was often unbearable. I’d wrap my orna (scarf) around my face and hold my breath until I was down-wind.

When I first returned to Australia I’d do the same whenever an open-backed garbage truck would drive past me. One day I forgot to, and was shocked to realise that an entire garbage truck barely smelt. I inhaled deeply, hunting for the organic smell of human waste – nothing.

I don’t know how it’s possible, or what secret ingredient our garbage trucks have in them, but they just don’t smell as much. And our garbage collectors don’t sing in public, like they did in Dhaka.

Greenery is the greatest.

Here, I can walk for kilometres, and beside nearly every road (even Parramatta Road!) there will be trees, or grass, or flowers hanging over a garden fence. I’d never appreciated just how integral the great outdoors is to the Australian psyche before.

In our biggest urban metropolis, we’ve still crammed in the Botanical Gardens, Sydney Harbour, the endless eastern suburbs beach trails, the tropical greenery and frangipanis of the northern beaches, and family parks every few blocks.

And I am blessed to have a backyard – like most Aussies – a little patch of green attached to the old terrace I live in, where I can lie down and remember what the earth smells like whenever I fancy. I really missed that in Dhaka.

We make different noises.

It’s the different sounds that I’ve noticed most – the bus door opens instead of a rickshaw bell ringing. People don’t really shout in public places, instead we huddle and gossip in groups. I miss the afternoon call to prayer, but the sound of church bells is still beautiful. Here’s some soundscapes I’ve collected over the past few months.

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Posted in: Travel, Writing