Last week we returned from a wonderful holiday in Australia. After many months of island life we couldn’t wait to experience the delicious food, plentiful shopping, fun family activities and spend time with dear friends.
Immersed in exciting Lonely Planet listings, I didn’t give much thought to the re-entry process. Australia doesn’t feel far away (the Dili-Darwin flight is only an hour), but I found it really interesting to watch our family re-adapt to developed-country living.
It’s all about perspective.
Within minutes of our arrival, the kids were enthusiastically pointing out everything that was new and different. Walking to the airport taxi stand, they marveled at the sight of BUSES! From many blocks away their keen eyes spotted swings, slides, and…PLAYGROUND! They raced, rolled and ran barefoot in the green GRASS! Up and down, up and down they went on the scary-steep STAIRS!
I was immediately struck by their sense of wonder at such everyday sights and joked that we’d obviously been depriving them. None of these discoveries had been a novelty before we moved to East Timor. But then again…the BEACH! was a pretty fantastic welcome to our new life.
As the taxi maneuvered its way to our temporary home—through the empty industrial area—my husband and I were already gushing: “it’s sooo nice here!” Smooth sidewalks, working stop lights, actual traffic lanes. My friend laughed at us: “Wow, if you think this is nice, wait until you see the actual city!” Clearly it’s not just three-year olds who swoon at the commonplace.
For the first few days it was all a little overwhelming. So much to see, so much to do, so much to buy—and so many people doing the very same thing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d waited in line for things. Though Australia seemed familiar—the many subtle differences sometimes threw us. We were lucky to have a fabulous friend as our cultural guide and soon fell happily into step with the city pace, stretching our island legs and soaking in the “silly season” energy.
Over lovely holiday meals, friends asked me what foods I’d missed most. I would usually mumble something about good cheese, certain fruits/vegetables or fresh herbs, but mostly I tried not to dwell on it too much. I do just fine if I don’t think about what I’m missing and instead appreciate what we do have (such as all-organic local produce and tasty coffee). In my case, ignorance is bliss. Though I will admit that the fresh berries were heaven…
As a family, we had a number of lessons to learn as we adapted to the big city. Staying safe on sidewalks and in crowds was a new thing for the kids—fortunately they learned quickly and without too many hand-holding battles. Navigating transportation was another new activity as we jumped on (and sprinted for) buses, ferries and taxis all over town. For my transport-loving son, this was a real highlight—whispered earnestly in my ear with pure boy joy: “Mommy…I love the bus.” Living in a country with no escalators or elevators made these things pretty exciting too—and pressing light-up buttons of all varieties, lots and lots of buttons.
Another interesting issue to navigate was my daughter’s extreme friendliness, a trait that is encouraged in kid-loving Timor (and Asia in general) but required some toning down while in Australia. Z is a naturally social and outgoing kid—she loves people, adores babies and attempts to engage just about everyone she meets with a cheery hello, smiling wave or a friendly pat. It has never been an issue in Timor, but in Australia it was sometimes a great icebreaker and sometimes…a little awkward. Though always a fascinating social experiment.
Sydney is filled with family friendly sights and activities and we loved taking advantage of these—checking out the iconic Opera House and Harbor Bridge, Botanical Gardens, Taronga Zoo, the Rocks, New Year’s fireworks, and the beautiful beaches and city parks. Yet, it was the little things that made us happiest.
Being able to WALK! everywhere—strolling for miles and taking in water views, cityscapes and green space. Enjoying PICNICS! amidst exotic-looking birds and trees. Breathing COOL AIR! in the evenings while wearing long sleeves. Re-connecting with old friends.
We loved our stay in Oz, but when it was time to go we felt ready to return to our quieter life. Arriving at Dili’s tiny international airport, I watched a group of Americans take in the scenery for the first time, photographing the green hills and swaying palms fringing the rough-looking runway. Walking the tarmac, I noticed the smell of the air for the first time…early morning cooking smoke mixed with fragrant flowers. Driving home on the main road—past rubbish piles, stray dogs and non-working stop lights—there was no comparison between shiny Sydney and dusty Dili. But we were home.
Postscript: Not long after returning to Dili I found myself bemoaning that day’s limited (and somewhat shriveled) produce selection at our local store—still thinking of bountiful Oz. A friend (who lives in West Timor, Indonesia) commented that she’d just been to the same store and was thrilled—compared to the limited offerings she’s used to, it was heaven.
It’s all about perspective.
What surprises you most when you travel? When you return home?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour in East Timor.
Photo credit to Shaula Bellour.
Great post! The first thing that surprises me when we travel with our daughter is how much “stuff” we think it’s necessary to bring. My husband and I need degrees in “light packing.”
One experience in France, when Sarah was 2-years old, she listened to people speaking French, really concentrated and stared. I don’t think she was so much deciphering the language, but listening to it being different. Church bells that went off during the day by our rented apartment immediately became “Frere Jacques” bells. She still talks about them. And, she still brings up the trip over a year later and tells us how she wants to go back. She liked the mountains, the playgrounds and probably the fact that her parents were so relaxed because they were on vacation!
I look forward to traveling with her now that she’s a little bit older and can tell us more about what she’s seeing. And, I loved how your children pointed out the things that were most exciting to them on their trip!
Veronica Samuels 🙂
Shaula, I loved this post! I soaked in every moment and every description and WOW did it ever give me the itch to travel again! I loved your purposeful stance on not focusing on what you’re missing, but rather enjoying where you/ what you have. That’s just plain old good thinking!
& As for traveling surprises? Maybe how quickly and easily we are able to adapt and meld into a place that we’ve never been and habits that we’ve never had. Pretty amazing, right?!
Well done, Mama! 🙂
Hi Shaula, fantastic reading your descriptions, I was travelling by your side. thank you. I live in Scandinavia & I now look out my window and see a meter of snow… the beauty of words.
Talking about perspective the town I come from, Paris, has more inhabitants than the country I live in, Norway. I always smile when people feel they are travelling to Oslo’s surburbs when they come to ours, we live a 15-minute subway ride from the city center. It takes more than an hour to cross Paris by metro, and for-ev-er if you’re by car !
Everything’s relative, you’re absolutely right, it makes these kinds of exchanges fascinating !
Thanks for the great comments – I loved hearing about your experiences. I’m with you on the need for light packing training…not easy with kids in tow (and I won’t mention how many pairs of shoes I brought). On the return trip, we managed to max out our weight allowance to the kilo — I like to think of it as a special talent rather than a sign of our exuberant consumerism.
Another thing that amused me in Australia was how nonchalant our kids were about things that seemed amazing to me – as they were casually petting and feeding koalas/kangaroos as if it were no big deal, I was thinking “do you have any idea how special this is and how lucky you are???” Um, probably not.
I can also relate to the Paris-Norway transition…more people gathered to watch the Sydney New Year’s fireworks than you’ll find in all of East Timor! I completely agree – it’s all relative and fascinating too. Thanks also for noting my glass-half-full intentions – sometimes I need reminding;)
Shaula, reading your post made me want to know more about your life in East Timor. I hope you’ll do a post on that soon (or maybe you have and I just need to go back and look for it). It is amazing how kids can light up over such different things, where we might see an iconic opera house, they’ll notice a new plant or bug; where we focus on architecture, they hone in on a nearby playground. When we were in China with our daughter at 18 mos, we had a favorite Indian restaurant. She loved it too but only because there were two marble elephant statues out front that she loved to ride on. Traveling with kids alters the way we travel but not necessarily for the worse, just for the different. It is a lesson that may take me a lifetime to learn but hopefully we’re all working on it or at least working with it.
Loved it!…..the adventure, the new experiences, and the appreciation for what you have.
I want to hear more about your island life, too.
Shaula – really enjoyed reading your post. Your writing is beautiful as I could picture and almost smell the things you were describing 🙂 Australia is definitely on my bucket list!
What a wonderfully evocative depiction of your experience. We want your life! Ours is pretty great for the moment but we’ll be eagerly following your experiences and wishing we could loll around on the beach with you.
Thanks so much — I really appreciate your comments. Stay tuned for a post about Timor life next time around…In the meantime, feel free to check out our adventures so far: http://luckymotion.wordpress.com/
Hello, I am thinking to move from Spain to Dili, how is the life working there??’
Hi Isa! We’ve had a great experience (though we may be leaving soon). Feel free to email me and I’d be happy to tell you more: firstname.lastname@example.org