Here, they serve you tea

I stirred over in bed, unwrapping myself slightly from the tight bounds of my hotel linens. Memories from my night prior drifted across my morning thoughts, settling pleasurably as I loosened the grips on the slumber of my past eight hours. Letting go of the timbers clamping my drowsy eyes shut, I squinted out, allowing the morning light to seep through my pupils. I repositioned myself, scrunching the plush of my pillowcase as I curled over to gaze ahead, absorbing the view outside the room’s window… a view that three and a half weeks later, continues to leave my speechless.  A blue- gray covering backed the streak of pink splashed across the canvas of the sky. A cool mist coated the city below, offsetting the headlights of the city traffic passing along the roads opposite my apartment. 

Lethargically, I grabbed my phone that I keep in the crack of the floor between my and my roommate’s bed. The time read half eleven; I sighed, bothered that I had let the morning slip by as I dozed through the early hours of the day. I blinked, readjusting my focus to the windowpane. It seemed as if the sunrise had frozen… Sydney was on my side this morning, permitting me a token of the morning I had missed.

It took me thirty minutes to come fully to my senses, rising out of the confines of my bed. Today was my day off from work, a treat to myself for having pushed my bedtime to the wee hours of the morning in order to attend the midnight showing of Harry Potter. I had spent time a few days ago, researching spots of interest to fill my free day; the weather, however, seemed reluctant to approve my plans, settling for an end of fall beginning of winter type of day. The prospect of train and bus transportation to tour the city seemed unappealing. I yearned to stay indoors, snuggled in the wrappings of my bedding, weighing the possibilities of a Harry Potter movie marathon. The better of me, however, squashed the thoughts, reminding me that there was no need to waste a free day on a date with my bed and computer.

And so I mulled over alternate possibilities for my day’s itinerary. Uncharacteristically, no part of me wished to tackle touristy plans. I, rather, wished to test out an Eastern surburbs’s day (I live in Bondi Junction, the Eastern suburbs of Sydney). I normally play tourist. Today, I would play real Australian. I suddenly knew exactly where I would go.

Slipping on my sweater and leggings, I tightened the strands of my hair into what just barely made up a ponytail. Sliding into my moccasins, I left the apartment, wearing no makeup and dressed comfortably… the perfect look for a day with myself. I was headed to the Westfield Mall, a four-story mall just opposite my apartment building.

Fashion in Australia is exquisite; clothing styles here surpass the trends of the states yet aren’t as avant-garde as European style of dress. If the sum in my dwindling bank account allowed it, I would purchase a new suitcase and a new wardrobe… in a heartbeat. It’s the tag stitched on the store garments that stop me. As an avid bargain shopper (H&M and Marshalls being my prime, American shop stops), I associate a $20 bill with a decent quality top. $20 here? That could get you a necklace, perhaps. Or possibly a straggly shirt in the sale section. $59 is the norm for cheaper shirts… $100 for better quality apparel.  The minimum wage in Australia is $15. I now understand why.

My eye caught signs pointed towards Target. I gravitated ahead, delighted to recognize a brand and hoping to relate to the cheaper prices I typically associated with the Targets of the states. Attempting to conceal the glint of excitement as I entered my token of America, I moseyed in, soaking in the familiarity of the store’s colors, lighting, banners and logo. But within moments of peering through the woman’s section, I discovered Australian Target was far from comparable to American Target. The clothing, in my opinion, was fit for an older wardrobe. The price tags…not right for an American, college student’s budget. But I shrugged off the differences, reminding myself that I wasn’t home. Of course Target would be different. I’m playing real Australian today… got to play it cool.

I did need travel toiletries for my upcoming trip to Cairns. It’s one of my favorite parts of my home Target- an aisle of my toiletry brands… miniature. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that Australia’s Target, in addition to Bondi's local pharmacies, don’t carry an aisle of toiletries. Rather, a travel toiletry kit in two options (male or female), both carrying shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, lotion and body wash, was the sole alternative. Not quite what I was in search for as I needed travel size face wash and hair gel. Flexibility is key when abroad and casual adjustment is customary for the typical Australian shopper. New plan: a travel size container to fill up with the liquids needed for my trip. Problem solved.

I returned to my apartment after a few hours of dallying through the mall, grabbed my computer and headed back out to Oxford Street, a promenade of shops located towards the back of my apartment building. I felt the urge to write today, yet had no desire to do so sitting in bed. Since the beginning of this summer, coffee shops have served as my location of inspiration to help spur the thoughts of my mind… something about those window seats. Independent cafes are the Starbucks of Australia (a few Starbucks are spread across the center of the city, they’re just not as popular). I entered a café a few minutes walk from my apartment, located in a corner between Oxford Street and the next street over. It stuck me that free water, as is usually my order of choice in Starbucks, wasn’t an option in this café. After verifying that it was acceptable to use my laptop in the café, I proceeded to purchase a regular cup of warm tea. “Take away or for here,” the barista asked warmly. “For here please,” I responded, briefly mentioning I had been looking for a Starbucks. The amiable barista laughed my comment off, claiming the café was by far a better choice. Minus the lack of free wifi, I readily agreed. The café was small; the register and counters filled in the majority of the right side of the café, with the exception of a small bar circling the edge of the counter by the front. I sat by the window, on the left of the shop. Three tables for two lined the side I sat on. I faced the front of the store, looking out onto the street behind the café’s large, open window- like entrance.

I’m used to waiting by a register for an order, being the one responsible for taking the cup back to my seat. I immediately discovered that wasn’t the case at this café as I akwardly walked back to my seat with the barista who seemed confused as to why I was standing waiting for my tea.

Comfortably seated, I sipped on my tea, peering over the shield of my laptop at the bustle of customers flowing in and out of the shop. I love watching people walking in, oblivious to the young girl eying their mannerisms and interactions as they placed their orders.

A lady, seemingly in her 40s, and young man, perhaps in his late 20s, early 30s, were seated behind me. I perked up as the lady mentioned Washington DC, containing myself from spinning around in excitement. She was in the middle of telling the man, perhaps her son, tips for finding his future partner. Her lesson: life is ruined if you choose to marry the wrong person. On a level, I would agree, but great… just great. No pressure or anything….really. The lady chatted on about a woman in DC who has 8 million dollars in addition to a charming sense of humor. Was the lady suggesting this American woman as prospect for her coffee date? I spaced out so I couldn’t quite tell.

The natural lighting outside the coffee shop dimmed, cooling the brisk winter air as the numbers of my digital clock neared 5 pm. I paused to reflect on my day of play as a Bondi resident. Today reinforced just how flexible one must be when living abroad. The comforts of American life, ehem the simplicity of purchasing travel toiletries in my home Target, aren’t a given here in Australia. The free water and wifi I associate with Starbucks at home are replaced with a café’s $3AUD cup of tea… conveniently hand delivered to your table. It’s all so different, new… odd yet nice. I miss the familiarities of home, but I understand the need for flexibility when living in an environment far removed from life in America. It’s part of the challenge of living abroad, and with only six weeks here, I don’t really think I’ll have the opportunity to come to terms with the differences. It’s a challenge I’ll save for the future, beginning with my upcoming semester long stay in Paris. For now, my task is to observe the differences of life here in Australia, attempting to compare while adapting my own American customs and norms. Mind you, though, I really wouldn't mind a $15 minimum wage. Would get such great shopping done with that chunk of money resting in my wallet.  

3 Response to Here, they serve you tea

July 16, 2011 at 2:03 PM

I enjoy your descriptive style, Emma. You don't have photos, and yet you describe it so well that I can see it in my mind.

Thanks, too, for joining me for this week's Traveler's Show & Tell over at the blog Mental Mosaic: Even home is a travel destination Hope to see you there again! :)

p.s. My hubby and I recently had a Harry Potter-a-thon, in preparation for seeing the final movie.

July 16, 2011 at 9:17 PM

I'm a fellow American in Sydney, and enjoyed both of your posts on Mental Mosaic. Love your vivid descriptions! By the way, the reason that Targets here are so different is because they are owned by a different company. Dayton Hudson sold the bulls-eye logo and name to the parent company of Coles, hence why it looks rather alien (and way pricier) to us Americans!

July 17, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Thank you so much!!!

Tui: Hope you absolutely LOVED the last HP movie... Definitely thought it was the best one yet!

C in Oz: Ah! That makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE now!!!!

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