That… was unexpected

I had a thought on Monday morning, as I was riding up the elevator to the office on the 19th floor, take away coffee in hand, ear buds in my ears, key card snapped to my jacket pocket, that it felt like one of those mornings you hear about just before a tragedy. A Monday morning so dull, so banal, and so routine that it was just aching to be shattered. Then I thought, yes, if this were a disaster movie, my elevator would stop suddenly and plunge to its and my death because a bomb had gone off in the building. Actually, I have that “elevator plunging to its and my death” thought almost every time I ride in that steel box. I’m afraid of heights and elevators, so working on the 19th floor is mildly traumatising. But yesterday, thinking about it felt a little darker. I made note of it as I stepped off the elevator, saying a quick thank you in my mind.

I forgot about that feeling as I got to work. Around 10:30 or so, my supervisor said, “Oh, there’s a guy in the CBD with a gun…” My immediate reaction, I’ll admit, was only mildly concerned. It’s the American in me who’s desensitised to gun violence, not even picking up on the fact that Australians don’t have guns. I was texting Joel, who works about 5 minutes away from the CBD (Central Business District), to let him know, when another coworker added, “And he’s waving an ISIS flag.” What? “Oh, he has hostages. He’s taken over a cafe and there’s an ISIS flag in the window!” warning signs went off everywhere in my head.

I flew to the news. When I saw the photo of the hostages with their hands pressed against the glass, underneath a flag with what appeared to be Middle Eastern writing, with headlines saying “SIEGE” “ISIS” “SUSPECTED TERRORIST”, my heart started racing. Mark me a reactionary American who grew up in the post 9/11atmosphere of paranoia and media spread fear, but at that moment, I was. I got scared. As objective as I try to be, I couldn’t stop thinking “oh fuck, what’s going to happen this time?” I glued myself to my phone, refreshing live feeds and fanning my internal hysteria.

I work in North Sydney, which is across the harbour from the CBD. I wasn’t near it, but I wasn’t that far. Joel was only minutes away from the scene. I was worried about how he’d get home, or if he’d end up on lock down like the rest of the city, or what if the gunman went on a rampage down Pitt St, or WHAT IF A BOMB HAPPENS?! THAT TWEET SAID HE HAD MULTIPLE DEVICES AROUND THE CITY!!

I was losing it inside. But my coworkers were remarkably calm. They’d get up to watch the helicopters that were circling low around the CBD, hands in their pockets, making “hmm, look at that!” murmurs. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I was texting Joel seemingly every 30 seconds, trying to formulate a plan for when the bridges were blown and we had to make it home. He assured me that I could probably just take a different bus route.

I had a doctors appointment after work, and I was sure it would be canceled. And I was surprised when appointments were still on, even though bus lines were being re-routed and terminated and traffic leaving North Sydney was being diverted.

So I left work early, planning to catch a ferry, assuming the cabs would be booked with frightened people trying to get home. Nope. There were a dozen cabs outside my building, like always. I flagged one down, hopped in, and the driver asked me if I wanted to cut through the city to get to Balmain quicker.
“Isn’t traffic through the city being re-routed?”
“For buses, yeah.”
“But I read that the bridge was closed to traffic because of the police lock downs.”
“But it’s quicker. We’ll go by bridge.”
The driver, who must have thought I was Canadian (no surprise there), spent the entire drive home blaming all the day’s mess on the United States. It was uncomfortable. I didn’t tip him.

When Joel got home, I’d never been happier to see him. But he had a little “what’s the big deal?” attitude. As he said, “our police are taking care of it. That’s their job, and they’re doing it. Everything is going to be ok.”

At the doctor’s office, no one mentioned it. When I said to my doctor, “crazy day, huh?” she gave me a confused look and said something about the weather being nice.

Walking down to the store after, no one was talking about it in the streets. Even with the radio DJ reporting the gun man’s demands of an ISIL flag and a meeting with Tony Abbott, everyone just went about their business. I only heard one woman talking about it, and she was chatting to someone on the phone, mostly laughing about how the gun man was “a complete nutter.”

I was beginning to feel alarmed that I had no one to share my panic with–besides my American friends who were checking in with me on Facebook, and my mom, who messaged me that she was looking up return flights to America for me (yes, I gently reminded her that America has had more terrorist attacks and more extreme gun violence than Sydney, and I was probably safer here).

Toward the end of the evening, the siege was still happening, and only a handful of hostages had been released. Our TV is broken, so we were hooked to our phones to give us news. And all the news did was give updates. Just updates. Nothing sensational. No terrorism segments. Real Tweets that debunked the audacious rumours I had read earlier. No “How to Spot an ISIS cell in Your Neighbourhood” specials. I felt like I should be panicking, but I was given nothing to panic about. After all, the second biggest story to the gun man was the “#illridewithyou” movement that was totally heartwarming. Joel explained to me that this is how Australians are. They don’t get riled up until there’s something to get riled about. I felt conflicted.

The conflict was bred out of knowing I should be frightened, and realising that I feel I should be frightened because, as with most people like me who grew up in military family, I relive the feelings from 9/11 whenever there’s a suspected terrorism attack. I wasn’t in NYC, but I lived 5 minutes away from a target (the NSA), and so many of my Dad’s friends and colleagues worked in the Pentagon. I relive the fear, the not knowing what will happen next, the wondering if everyone you knew made it out ok, and then, the proceeding years of growing up in a culture that simultaneously told you to fear/suspect and love/not judge Muslims. There I sat, looking at images of a flag and hostages and a gun man and I was shaking, trying not to be scared, trying not to leap to conclusions, while everyone around me seemed so sure that everything would be ok. But I know how not okay everything can be. I started to feel embarrassed, even though I knew, and Joel assured me, that I had nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s the most unsettling culture shock I’ve ever experienced.

In the end, there were no bombs, no terrorist group, no plot to take over the city. However, the gun man and two hostages were dead before the raid concluded just after 2 AM. And the next day at work, no one had anything to say about it. Everyone in the streets went hustling about their business. Memorials are planned for the fallen hostages, and insensitive people are being slammed for taking selfies at the scene. And that’s it. No extra security that I can see. People still crowd cafés. It’s just another day in Sydney.

Today, I nervously rode the elevator to the 19th floor. This time, feeling thankful for how ordinary and bland my morning felt.


Hello, Sydney!

It’s been an ordeal of packing, good byes, visiting, more packing and more good byes, but I’ve finally made it to my new home. And so far, it’s wonderful.

hey hey!
hey hey!

After a week in Los Angeles, I checked my bags with Virgin Australia and boarded my flight.

It’s a 16 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angles. The last time I visited Sydney, my flight back was perfect. I had the entire row to myself, a good dinner, and I stretched out and slept for 12 hours with a pile of pillows and blankets. But my flight back was atrocious. I was in the middle seat in the very last row of a completely sold out flight, and I only had one Xanax. Xanax? Yes. I used to be a nervous flyer–one of those people who would sit absolutely still lest I knock the plane out of balance–but now I’m asleep before the plane takes off. I’m fine with planes. What I’m not fine with is being bored and awake on a flight. It seems that long flights bring out the ADD in me, and no amount of movies, books, over priced mini-bottles, or tabloid crash can keep me occupied for more than a couple of hours. And while I have no problem falling asleep before take off, I always wake up when the attendants come by. Or when there’s slight turbulence. Or when the person beside me is snoring. So I take Xanax before flights to sleep through the entire experience and just be done with it.

Anyway… after I evaluated the conditions of the flight (delayed, cramped, stuffy, smelly seat mates), I decided to take my one and only Xanax immediately. I put my head phones in, pulled my hoodie down over my eyes, put my pillow up to my chin and made the “I’m sleeping, please don’t bother me” pose. But, the flight attendants woke me up for everything. Drink? Snack? Post-drink snack? Dinner? Drink? Are you sleeping? It was awful. And for 14 of the 16 hour flight, I was like a caged cat stuck between two sleeping giants.

So I wasn’t really looking forward to this flight. I pulled a packing ninja move, and crammed 3 large carry-on’s into 2 (packing my life for the win), with one bag dedicated to in-flight entertainment (including a stack of gossip trash–my last taste of America), pajamas, and a refill of Xanax. I was in luck, though, as I once again had the entire row to myself, a semi-good dinner, and a good round of sleep. I watched a beautiful sunrise around 5 AM, and sat glued to the window as we made our descent. I filled out my customs card, and felt a little spark as I got to the duration of visit section and checked the “12 months or more” box. 🙂

Sunrise over the Pacific

After waiting in the customs line for about 40 minutes, I grabbed my suitcases from the carousel. I juggled the two suitcases and my two giant carry-ons as awkwardly as possible, as everyone else stacked their luggage on smart carts. Being American, I had the “I’m not paying $7.50 for a damn luggage cart when my suitcases have wheels.” and it wasn’t until I was waiting in line for the second round of customs and my suitcases flipped or my carry-ons fell off that I realized the luggage carts were free. I felt like an idiot abroad until a Japanese woman trying to wrangle 4 rolling suitcases and a handful of stuffed animals got in line behind me. /solidarity

I got through the dog sniffing line (the dog got really excited when he smelled my suitcases, and the security guard asked me if I had cats at home. ha), and was finally released into the airport. I don’t know what possessed my luggage, but I couldn’t keep them rolling straight behind me. Since I couldn’t get wifi in the customs area, I had no way of contacting Joel to find out where he was. I was wide eyed and bushy haired and struggling with my luggage when the crowds literally parted and I saw him standing there, with the biggest grin on his face. My heart about burst out of my chest. We ran to each other, my bags flying everywhere. He grabbed me in a bear hug and I started crying. I swear, I’ve never felt so lit in my life.

We waited in line for a taxi, and we were finally on our way home. Joel handed me my keys, and when I opened the door, he had Welcome Home! streamers hung over the door ways. As soon as I dropped my bags, the place felt like home. Like there was no place else I’d rather be. It was good to be home.

IMG_1187 IMG_1188

After I settled in for a bit, Joel gave me my birthday presents: a Fuji X-M1 camera with a 16 – 50 mm zoom lens, an Italian leather journal with my name hand embossed on the cover, a real fountain pen, and some damn awesome socks. I can’t tell which gift I’m more excited over. I love stationary. And I love fun socks. And I really love using a real camera. So, basically, I’m really looking forward to adding quality pictures here. While I wear my pizza socks. And doodle animal creatures and scribble my name 800x with my fancy pen in my fancy journal. So good!

hand marbling!
stationary 4 lyfe
It has the feel of one of those ‘Nam-era photo journalist cameras, even if it’s digital. I have dubbed him T.Rexington

Joel’s mom sent over a welcome gift of wine, chocolate frogs, and notebooks, and a sweet card. It was such good welcome to my new home. Our new home 🙂

We went out for breakfast and coffee, and sight seeing.


Important parts of this picture: Hooker bank, Monkey bar, chili con carne croissant, Derp Face.

Our suburb, Balmain, is about 15 minutes from downtown Sydney, and is filled with shops and restaurants. And if you walk in any direction, you hit water. It’s so nice.

It was so blustery that day, that we were almost blown off the cliff.
Joel checking on things

Even when it’s freezing. Because spring just happened here, but the winter temps haven’t left. And I knew the temps leading up to my arrival had been between 50-60*, so I wasn’t too worried. I just didn’t take into account how close we are to the water. And how breezy it is here. A normal 57* here feels like 40* back home. For the last 6 days, I’ve regretted leaving my jackets and scarves at home to be shipped here later. And being in fall like temperatures without boots and a coat makes me feel naked and vulnerable in the most yuppy-can’t-even-deal way.

We ordered fancy pizzas for dinner, and had a Nicholas Cage movie marathon until I fell asleep at like, 9 PM.

such yum

The next day, we went to see an exhibition of Tabaimo’s illustrations at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which were surreal and a bit unsettling, and I made the agonizing decision to get an iPhone.


We got a really good deal on adding an extra line to Joel’s existing contract, and I got the 5s phone for a really good price (and an even better price since the USD is currently stronger than the AUD). I’ve been Team Droid since they came out, but I have to admit, life with a new phone is a hell of a lot easier. I mean, beside the 4+ hours it took to set everything up because I couldn’t remember my iTunes password and I kept having issues with my Gmail security. But now, I can make calls, and my apps load within mili-seconds, and my phone doesn’t turn off randomly or give me massive delays when typing. And it has a fancy gold case. Like a mix between RuPaul and C3-PO. I’m pretty happy. Even if my bank account is a little lighter.

We had lunch at the top of the Museum, and we watched a storm roll in over the harbor, and I had a Waygu beef sandwich that was life changing.

Seagull pal!
Joel’s chicken salad, which was equally amazing
Waygu beef!

We got home and had taco night and I watched my first rugby game. Sports bore the shit out of me, but I kinda admit here, that rugby is pretty sweet.


The next day, we had an adventure to Ikea that started off amazing and ended almost terribly. But that’s another post unto itself.

My first few days in Sydney have been a blast. I’m slowly getting unpacked, our apartment is coming together, and Joel and I have awesomely over-indulged in sweat pants hang times. I’ve been able to chat with friends from home a few times, and I’ve even worked in a Skype with my family. I’ve had a few Idiot Abroad moments, and I’m learning the in’s and out’s of public transportation and Australian pronunciation (the names here are drowning in vowels). I miss everyone back home, but I’m really happy to be there. After all the waiting, all the time apart, and all the planning, I’m finally here. And it’s like I’ve never left.

Til next time!