Winter is finally drawing to a close here in Sydney. That doesn't mean much, however, since most "winter" days the temp fluctuates between 50-60 degrees with nominal windchill. It is a bit haunting though that this was the first July/August I've ever spent away from summer and, despite the wonderful city that surrounds me... I miss home. The days have been short here and I'm forced to live vicariously through Snapchats of sunny days in Piedmont Park, Instagram pics of Sunday brunches in the Highlands, various Facebook beach trip albums, and annoyingly repetitive Buzzfeed articles. The American World goes offline at every day and the sun sets by , which eventually takes a toll on my evening morale. Needless to say, I live ten minutes from the Sydney's beaches and I'm ready for summer.
Some of you are probably thinking, "Thanks for the weather update, Swanson, that's really what we care about" which is a fair blast, so I should probably move on to the heavier stuff...
In order to feel chronologically caught up, I'd like to fast-track a lighting round of sorts and so here are just a few of the noteworthy happenings that have taken place in my world these last few months:
(Not a bad first dive site, yeah?)
- SCUBA diving - Aside from learning to surf -- impossible, for now -- the only other mandate I gave myself when moving here was to get SCUBA certified. Australia is obviously home to the Great Barrier Reef and, with Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesian islands just a stones throw away, it made perfect sense to get acquainted with life under the sea while I was here (I've since met almost the entire cast of Finding Nemo, save a few sharks). So I dropped a few stacks of cash, ponied up, and got my PADI Scuba certification here in Sydney, doing two days worth of open ocean dives on the Eastern coast, with the primary goal of being eligible to step into the big leagues and do some diving on the wonderful islands of...
(Monuriki Island, Fiji - Tom Hanks tried to hang himself from that peak on the left)
- Fiji - If I asked any of you to point to Fiji on an unlabeled map, could you do it? ...Neither could I, despite making a commitment to travel there more than a year ago for a wedding this past April. Turns out Fiji is only a 3-hour flight north of Sydney, kind of a volcano-less Hawaii of the Western Pacific. This made my commute perhaps the easiest of the rest of the wedding party -- which hailed from Boston and Perth. I can truly say it was the most tropical place I've ever visited. I won't ramble on with details, but I met dozens of new friends, snorkled around the tiny island where Tom Hanks filmed Cast Away, drank ceremonial Kava, fed a school of sharks at 10 meters depth, said "Bula" over a hundred times to complete strangers and, most importantly, witnessed my favorite couple, Brad and Chelsea, tie the knot... which is some much-needed closure to those Lansdowne days in Athens when, slowly but surely, we all realized they were soulmates. I even channeled some creativity and painted them a photo (which was a real photo mind you) as their wedding present. This leads me into my next segment...
(Acrylics and a bit of spray paint on canvas. Size: packable)
- Painting - Not for a client, not on a wall, but for me... and, having eliminated quite a few distractions by displacing myself in a foreign country, I found it pretty easy to dive back into an old hobby. To be candid, I'm a firm believer that we should all seek some form of personal solitude to escape the other 23 hours of the day: be it strumming a guitar, pouring through pages of George R.R. Martin novels, smashing weights at the gym, slaying noobs on XBox, or writing silly blogs like this. It's really that "me time" that makes you step outside the routine others have mandated for you and remind yourself that, like the stars and stripes of our great American flag, your freedom should be exactly that: free. What was at first an "escape" (I've got more projects I'll post soon), painting became a borderline compulsion after a week or two so, in an effort to make sure I didn't become a complete recluse, I accepted a friend's invitation and tried out for a local team playing...
(Home ground baseball fields in Northmead... could be worse, right?)
- Baseball - Who knew I'd travel half way around the world to play one of the most Americanized sports on the planet? Let's be real: I hadn't picked up a baseball since I had a learner's permit in high school, but I think my American accent (and my inconspicuously fake Braves jersey) earned me some street cred on day one and, after two weeks of trials, I somehow made the team. 60% of my throws were off-target but I'd always played catcher, so my glove skills and batting was enough to earn me a spot on the lowest-grade "development" squad at the club. Honestly, I didn't even know what team I was trying out for at first but, as it turns out, it ended up being Sydney University's baseball program. Apparently, much unlike American NCAA sports, most university teams in Australia don't require any tangible affiliation to the actual school, which is such a backwards-ass form of competition I can barely understand it even after a full season. All I know is that it was awesome playing baseball with a dozen or so Aussie blokes, all yelling at each other from the dugout with the same language I'd known growing up, only now distinctly foreign and with weird accents, teammates chanting: "C'mon moyyte, it's yowah pitch now, give it a royyde yeeah kid!" In retrospect, I apologize for not Snapchatting this. We placed third in the comp and missed out on the grand finals by a one-run margin. Regardless, I made some great "True Blue" Australian friends and it was awesome getting to travel around the Sydney suburbs every weekend for games, as I'd only really seen the city until...
(What the drive looked like heading out to camp)
- Camping - Made a trip out to the Blue Mountains a few months ago with Zac (best Sherpa mate) and Brian (best Google mate) for some hiking, fly-fishing, and general bourbon-fueled campfire banter. I'd have never known that Sydney has a legit Mountain range only a few hours drive West and was lucky enough to be invited along for a proper lads trip out into the Aussie Bush. I posted the photos to Facebook forever ago it feels like, so add me if you haven't seen them, but the scenery was nothing less than divine. Also, to my surprise, I came to realize that kangaroos aren't just this idealized rare Australian mammal, they're actually so abundant that they're impossible to miss! I've grown up seeing deer here and there driving through the Appalachians, but these Kangas are everywhere! Packs of three, four, five of them at a time just hopping along the roadside as you pass through rural highways... they're all dumb as bricks but I'll be damned if they don't look really cool when they're doing their thing. The exposure to nature outside the day-to-day metro world was priceless and, between the three of us, Brian, Zac, and I probably spent 10 hours casting and didn't catch a single fish. That being said, I wouldn't have changed a single thing about that weekend.
(Dodgers vs. D-Backs opener - the Aussie crowd thought every foul ball was a home run)
While there are still a bunch more ridiculous national holidays and off-beat adventures I could outline here, such as attending the Dodgers first 2014 game which they for some reason scheduled here at a Cricket Grounds in Sydney (above), I'd rather leave it at that for now. I've planned a vacation up to Cairns (Northern Tropical Australia) this weekend with my housemates and will likely have some updates on that a week from now. Poppa Swanson sent me a GoPro for my birthday so I'm hoping I can get some beach, scuba, rainforest, and waterfall clips and put together a solid video after the fact.
It's been roughly 9 months since I moved here and, looking back, I remember thinking that life in Oz would be a brilliant journey of self-awakening and that, without the common distractions of everyone/everything I knew in Atlanta, I would blossom into this acutely upstanding and responsible version of my former self. To be culturally relevant, my thought process moving here was a fusion of "You only live once, n***a YOLO that's the motto" and "Oh yeah, that's right, I'm doing me" - who knew I had so much in common with our boy Drake?
In many ways, that's been the case... tons of new experiences, good habits, and even a subtle degree of maturity I can attribute to this journey... but I've likewise come to realize just how important those homegrown connections can be, and that, despite my opportunities and advances, home will always be home. More and more every day, the culture here rubs off on me... my fake Bogan accent is coming along nicely and I have a distinctly Aussie-hipster haircut as of late. I also tend to wear clothes that actually fit me now (the unbuttoned "Southern-frat" look just comes off awkward and sloppy here). On top of that, I'm a complete and total coffee snob. I follow three different rugby leagues... and yet, I miss Waffle House, Taco Bell, and trying to keep up with College and NFL football games these next few months means waking up at 3am and streaming low-res channels in a jersey and sweatpants. Sacrifices... I think they call them.
More to come, much more to come. It's easy to make excuses every time I think of sitting down and divulging my thoughts one keystroke at a time... working too much, projects to finish, books to read, etc. but I definitely owe it to my friends, my mates, my colleagues, and (most importantly) my Mom to not go radio-silent despite a full schedule and ridiculous time-zone difference.
To my friends back home, please keep the Snapchats coming... and I'll uphold my obligation to inform the 404, the 706, and even the 303 of my happenings in the "other other deep South."