\Mood: Happy Anniversary!!!
Today marks the 25th anniversary of my life as an Aussie.
I can still remember the day we landed in Australia on 3 March 1983, the weeks leading up to our one-way ticket from Hong Kong, and life in Sydney in the ensuing weeks.
I was 10 years old, filled with excitement and trepidation. I had had an incredibly good flight – prone to suffer horrendous motion sickness, I usually flew with a sick bag over my face, but this particular flight was smooth sailing, which was a relief to my folks who had 2 other little ones to look after. I remember emerging from Customs and seeing the exceptionally bright sun. Dad’s long-time friend, Uncle Tom, was waiting for us in the Arrivals Lounge.
Shielding our eyes, we walked out into the searing heat towards Uncle Tom’s station wagon. The trip to Frenchs Forest (where Uncle Tom lived with Auntie June and their three daughters, Jennifer, Melissa and Bianca) was long – the air was oppressively thick as the windows remained closed throughout the trip. I recall asking if I could open the window just a crack to let in some fresh air, only to be denied by a snappy and jetlagged Mum. I remember this overly pungent fragrance of what I can only assume was the car freshener, making me both sleepy and nauseous.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at Uncle Tom’s house, where we stayed until Dad found our first Australian house in Lindfield. I don’t recall exactly how long we stayed with Uncle Tom – I can only assume it was a week or so – there were, after all, 10 of us living in very closed quarters.
The one standout memory I have of that week was discovering Vegemite. To this day, I can still recall clearly my first taste of the thick black salty spread. It was early one morning – too early for anyone in the house to be up and about, but for some reason, I was wide awake and starving. I had wandered into the kitchen, hoping to find something to eat in the fridge. Unable to find any ready-to-eat foodstuffs, I happened upon a screw top jar with a distinctive yellow lid. I unscrewed the lid, sniffed at the dark coloured paste, and dipped my finger into the jar. The explosion of flavours in my mouth made me dip my finger into the jar again and again. To this day, I am still a happy little Vegemite.
I remember being incredibly sad when I was saying goodbye to my grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins. I remember knowing things would never be the same again, even though we promised to write to each other all the time. I was very close to Mum’s side of the family, and it hurt so much to leave them all. I wanted to run away from my family, so I could stay in Hong Kong with my beloved Goong Goong and Por Por. I remember telling Dad I hated him for making us leave everything we knew and loved to go to a foreign country that was great for a holiday but scary as hell to start a new life in.
I remember helping Mum pack up all of our belongings in our spacious apartment in Sha Tin. I remember how empty my room looked on the day we left, and how sad I was as I heard the gate click shut that one last time.
Over our time at the Frenchs Forest house, I grew to miss not only my extended family, but also my Hong Kong school friends. I was one of the more popular girls at school and had a lot of friends, who were all very sad to see me leave. Unbeknownst to me, the teacher had asked everyone in my class to write farewell notes, to be presented to me at a farewell party held in our classroom on my last day. I remember there was a cake, and some of my friends gave me presents along with their heartfelt notes. There might have even been a few tears.
After moving to our house in Lindfield, we were enrolled in the local primary school, Lindfield East Public School. I remember being very frightened by the prospect of being new to a school, surrounded by kids who were talking a million miles an hour in a language that I did not understand. Dad had taught us two useful phrases prior to our departure from Hong Kong – really useful phrases like "How do you do?" and "I’m fine, thank you, and you?" Neither of which were particularly useful to me on my first day of school.
My sisters and I were immediately introduced to the other "black heads" in the school – I remember there was a set of Chinese twin girls in my year who were polite enough to play with me for a couple of weeks before leaving me to my own devices. I remember Grace and I sneaking into the "infants school" area (which housed the kids in Kindergarten to Year 2) to have lunch with Georgianna, and getting into trouble with one of the infants school teachers because Grace and I were "technically trespassing". Mean teachers.
I remember 4 of my classmates from Lindfield East Public School – Stephen, Belinda, Simone and George. Stephen was the sweetest boy – I think he took pity on me. During my first spelling test, Stephen let me copy off his answer sheet. I remember he stuck up for me a lot in class, especially when the other kids made fun of me. I remember he was quite tall, with dark brown hair and a kind smile. Belinda was my neighbour, and she let me play with her dolls. Simone was the loudest girl in class and took it upon herself to be my Mother Hen – she taught me to pronounce the word "cake" – I allegedly pronounced it as "kick". George was the mean kid in class – he teased me mercilessly, about my hair, my glasses, my accent, about everything. I remember getting so mad with him that I smacked him over the head with my plastic ruler, which promptly broke into 3 pieces. I remember being inconsolably upset because the ruler was a gift from one of my Hong Kong classmates.
Armed with no English skills, I remember struggling to complete my homework and to fit in and make friends. We remained at Lindfield East Public School for about 5 months before we moved again, into our North Epping house where we lived until 1991. North Epping Public School became our 3rd school in 1983 – we had to make new friends again, and settle into a new class with a new teacher. I put every ounce of energy into learning English, and by the end of my primary school days in 1984, I had achieved the almost impossible – I was placed 9th overall in my grade and was one of only 2 girls from my class to enter high school in the graded stream (graded = smart kids, non-graded = rest of the kids).
I still call Hong Kong home, but it really hasn’t been home for 25 years. Whilst Hong Kong will always remain my hometown, Sydney is my home – and I can’t imagine a better place to call home. Happy silver anniversary to me and my family!