“Yes, I don’t know what it is about them. I just have a fascination just to jump in there and be with them. I was always being told off by the instructors not to go in, other people were petrified. I guess I have been like that since I was fourteen. Yes in fact I’m sure. I have always had a love for sharks since watching Jaws. It the scared the shit out if me”. In truth, it was starting to scare the shit out on me. Just as her eyes began to fade with her shark addiction, for which she was in Australia for, she turned around and asked “So what’s your addiction or phobia?’.
Just as I was about to say “Well, does making strange and bizarre decisions count as an addiction?” I changed my mind. It certainly seemed that way. I had woken up in a bizarre and bewildering hidden and obscure hostel in Kowloon. I had then woken up two days later in less strange but surreal all the same bed in Sydney. It was like finding out that there is a website for internet addicts, something, and I didn’t really know what that something was, all seemed a bit odd.
“Well actually I have got a phobia of fish, I don’t know what it is. But yes, before you ask, the great barrier reef dive was an experience in more ways than one”. There was me questioning her love hate regard for Sharks, she was probably laughing inside at my hate hate for all things fish, finding Nemo certainly wasn’t one of my life ambitions.
At those three days in Wakeup hostel, I had decided to take a more pro-active approach to people, with a little experiment in social interaction. It had been bugging me for a while, can you really just start talking to complete strangers? Well, of course you can. Of course you have to pick your moments, calculate your odds of go for the kill. The count was on three. The French woman who had asked me about lockers, I asked her about French things. Then there was Jade. A distance close enough, and, most importantly, reaching out for her second cigarette. The first is always the token one. The second, well, that nobody has a second without a reason.
“Have you had a good day?” I asked. It was more a question of irony than purpose. Of course she couldn’t have had a good day, it was raining. But, more importantly, it had just reached twelve. Not that much time to celebrate having a good day. Then wait for the reaction. Twenty minutes later. A meeting at eight in the bar for a drink.
Sydney itself was just the same as before, nothing had changed. Even the price of a red weekly travel ticket was stuck at thirty two dollars. The Opera House was still that off shade of white, the bridge with the same flow of tourist walkers in the distance. The shops were still there, in the same order. The unfinished building sites were now finished buildings. There were still the same proportion of Asian people, it was almost scientific, like there was some city quota. Tuesday night at the cinema was still ‘tight arse’ Tuesday, or so the locals in the queue called it. The buses still ran from the same bus stops, the trains pulled in at the same stations and the bars still had the same posters. The ‘lovely people’ hippy was still calling people ‘lovely’ down on Bondi beach. He was even wearing the same hat. Just what I was expecting to change in a year and a half I didn’t really know. Then I realized what was different. They were no longer serving sweet and sour chicken balls at the Foodcourt at Martin Place. I was most distressed. The “Have you had a good day?” line had meant I was drinking a few chilled schooners of VB down at the sidebar that night. It was a flashback in time. It was like I had stepped back after a week of being away. The chilled glasses were going down quite well, before I knew it I was surrounded on the table by ten woman, the beer must have been good. Before I knew it I had become fully updated with who was being a bitch to who, which person had bad dorm manners, who fancied which member of staff, who drank too much the night before and an array of what was what and who was who. It got a little bit too much, at one am I realized I had endured my dose of Cosmopolitan type tales and made my fuzzy exit.
The three people in my room were from a village in Norfolk. They didn’t have to tell me, they sounded like they were from farming outpost. They were on holiday and this was the first time they had stayed in a hostel. “This is a bit basic, we had a television in our hotel and everything” one of them said. “It’s crazy, the bathroom hasn’t even got a hairdryer!” the other girl claimed. As she unloaded her second set of hair curlers from her huge three week luggage, it became apparent, they really were on holiday.
Over a three day period we developed a mutual sleeping pattern. I would come in at one am, get up at eight am. They would just come in at eight am. As I was leaving and saying goodbye, they would come in, fully intoxicated and say hello on the way past. They tended to live in the pub all day, sometimes taking a break to see the Opera house if time allowed. They knew they had come to Sydney for a reason, it’s just they didn’t really seem to know what it was. I did my best to inform them of the local sights and surroundings. But the question and answer session would always end with one question. “Yes, but what are the pubs like there?”.
I had quickly come to the conclusion. I knew Sydney better than any other city in the world, the result of extensive walks, research and reading. I knew where to find what and in what shops. I knew where to eat, where to sleep and where to walk. I knew how to get around, how to get back. I knew what time films were showing, the cost of bottle of water in different places and the expressions of people seeing the Opera house for the first time. I knew how to pick up different accents and different conversations in different places. It was either time to move on or time to stay. One minute I was on the plane, the next I wasn’t. One minute I was emailing a job agency, the next I was looking into flights back home. When people asked how long I was staying for, they were constantly surprised when I said “I just don’t know”.
I had tried the “Have you had a nice day” before, it was time for something even more unoriginal. They were on their third cigarette. This person was bored. “How’s it going?” I said. The conversation quickened. She took a deep breath and said “Well, you see, I have been emailing this dive instructor every day for the last two weeks, I really want to do a dive but can’t afford it. You see I have always had a fascination for sharks”.