The Eastern Suburbs Experiment, Part I

September 30, 2006 at 3:18 am (Uncategorized)

In just over an hour, I am going to a birthday lunch for a friend. It couldn’t BE more convenient for Llew and me, since it is being held at a cool restaurant at the other end of the beach from where we live. Here in Sydney, it’s a fairly glorious, if a little windy day. I’ve punched out 10 kms this morning, been for a wonderful, reviving swim in the big blue (household motto: it’s always a good idea), and just been around the corner to feed a friend’s pet (cat food stinks). Life is good.

But I know what’s coming, and here’s the little experiment I am going to play. Let’s call this post “Expectation.” For those of you who don’t live in Sydney, it’s a city of fairly intense demarcation. It’s divided, like most places, in four directions, and we all live and die by the code. The post code, that is. Now, today is an unusual and interesting case. The birthday girl is an eastern suburbs stalwart, but she’s recently been seeing another friend, who was inner west but has recently moved north. Cas, the birthday girl, has shown real flair and daring by opting to hold her birthday celebration north, near her boyfriend Simon’s place, instead of east, where she lives. This is her way of introducing her eastern suburbs friends to the alternate universe that is the north (or so absolutely everyone who lives in the east seems to think).

I am better qualified to speak about this Sydney hang up than most people. I was born in the east, spent my infancy south, moved back to the east, was taken to the inner west, then further north, then west, then I left Sydney altogether to live first in British Columbia, Canada, and then Australia’s much maligned capital, Canberra, then back to Sydney and the inner west, then London, then back east, then north. I know whereof I speak. Sydney is full of people who don’t ever, ever leave their own area if they can possibly avoid it.

Between the east and the north, there exists a special enmity. They are in a competition without any rules or prizes or…point, if you want to get right down to it. I used to play in the competition when I was still living in Bondi, the flagship beach of the eastern suburbs. The game goes something like this: you would rather set yourself on fire than go to “the dark side.” Of course, when I moved to said dark side, I realised everyone here says exactly the same thing about the east. I had simply switched sides. And boy didn’t I know it. Llew and I literally LOST FRIENDS when we moved here. We were just smote from their world. It was deeply unsettling, until we decided not to give a rat’s arse.

So, today, here’s how this thing is going to play out. I could almost bet money on it. People from the east are going to arrive in a flap, exhausted, near-hysterical, from the effort of crossing Sydney Harbour into this strange world of raving savages. We will listen politely to every tale of woe and inconvenience, as they detail the abject trauma of leaving their little universe to venture across the maw to the great unknown. Then they will look around Will and Toby’s, an eastern suburbs favourite that has set up – SHOCK HORROR – north, and say “Thank GOD Will and Toby’s is here, where would you go otherwise?”

Yes, the only way to secure an eastern suburbs showing north of the Harbour Bridge is to provide a little piece of the east. Like homing pigeons they’ll fly in, directly, without looking right or left or making eye contact with the natives, and then they’ll fly out, talking animatedly about all the curious creatures and peculiar things they’ve seen.

That’s my expectation. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, tentatively titled “Outcome.”

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Nail Sports

September 29, 2006 at 5:43 am (Uncategorized)

It was my birthday last Tuesday, and I decided to treat myself to a manicure/pedicure combo. During my lunch hour, I legged it up to Greenwood Plaza, which is in North Sydney, Australia, and walked into one of those nail bars that have cropped up in every second shopfront in Sydney over the past couple of years. These places are easy to spot because they’re brightly lit, generally all-white, scrupulously tidy, and universally manned by extremely efficient, tiny Asian women. This outlet was no exception. I dutifully chose my colours (natural for my hands, and some kind of blood cherry red for my toes) and settled into the foot spa whilst two of these pocket dynamos went to work on me.

There’s never a lot of conversation during these treatments. This time, the ladies bantered among themselves in their native tongue. Every so often, one or the other would relay a comment to me in English. At one point, one of the ladies watched a departing customer, scrunched up her face into a look of total disgust, and said something in what I think was Korean to one of the other girls. I thought to myself “That customer must have really smelly feet.” I was about to congratulate myself on my fearsome powers of deduction when the other lady turned to me and said “She said it’s so hot out there today.” Well, quite right, it was.

Then came the foot scraper. I go into uncontrollable hysterics every time I get a pedicure, because that thing that they use to scrape the bottom of my feet might as well be a feather scientifically engineered to give a better tickle. Peals and peals of my own laughter interrupted the otherwise completely hushed environment. The girl in the chair next to me started laughing at my laughter, and the two beauticians exchanged polite smiles tinged with growing alarm. Had I gone mad? They didn’t seem to discount the possibility.

Exhausted, my fit of the giggles finally subsiding, I was guided, along with my pedicure pal in the next seat, to the ultraviolet drying area. Because I had a manicure AND a pedicure, I might as well have been tied up for all the freedom of movement I possessed. The pile of magazines helpfully displayed at eye level seemed to taunt me. What was I supposed to do? Turn the pages with my teeth? But then my pedicure pal saved the day and made this an all-time favourite afternoon of nail sports. Her hands free, she selected a cool magazine, set it down between us, and started to slowly turn the pages. It wasn’t long before the banter was flowing: “I love her”; “Look at her hair, it’s fabulous”; “Do you think she’s better as a blonde or brunette?”; “I can’t believe they broke up.” Naturally we were in agreement on EVERYTHING, every detail, every little piece of glossy minutiae. Our heads were bent right over the mag, and we were as intently focused on our task as two girls dressing dolls.

Eventually, happy, amused, sated, we realised our nails were dry and we were free to return to our own lives. My pedicure pal gave me a big smile, a wave, and walked out into that stinking hot afternoon calling out “Happy birthday!” – and without a doubt, my hour settled in there in nail Narnia was one of the highlights of my day.

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