Articles by Liz

A plane ticket to happiness

Leaving Cambodia (pic: Liz Ledden)

How many times have you wondered if you’d be so much happier or your life would be perfect, if only I lived ‘there’ (insert fantasy locale of choice – a Thai island or downtown Manhattan perhaps) instead of ‘here’?

The quest for the perfect place and therefore perfect life can take its toll if you heed its call. Once ensconced in a new place the comparison game begins, usually starting with a period of intense highs where all the best bits of the new place are realised and explored, and are deemed ‘so much better’ to the previous (now far more inferior) place. Eventually cracks appear in its shiny surface and the inevitable crash can be a painful one when it becomes clear that this place, too, is deeply flawed. Hence the search begins again. Perhaps the old home is repainted in a new, shinier light, or the quest for a new and better place begins all over again.

For perpetual travellers, career expats and other wandering spirits it can be easy to get caught up in the country or city comparison game. When I moved from Australia to Cambodia I definitely experienced the highs and lows of falling deeply in love with a place then feeling the sting of its bite when things fell apart. Like being seduced then betrayed, I built Cambodia up to be my utopic world of happiness and light, surrounded by smiling faces, serene monks, glittering temples and lush landscapes. Money was no longer any object and life was a party every night.

Eventually though, the gloss wore off (though happily was eventually repainted – I definitely lost a piece of my heart in Cambodia and will never forget the impact my time there has had on my life). Friends became victim to petty theft one by one, and I spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on a rudimentary hospital floor next to a friend who was viciously pulled out of a moving tuk tuk by a handbag snatching thief. I too was robbed, by someone I trusted – my very own cleaner, who skipped town with my precious laptop containing a few years’ worth of photos that were foolishly not backed up. The frustrations continued when dealing with the corrupt and inept police who thought there was no point pursuing the perpetrator when it was obvious the laptop would have already been sold. Talk about missing the point. I eventually moved on from my laptop loss and forgave my beloved Cambodia for all its frustrations.

I moved to Saigon next, where again I went through a process of the first flushes of new love and an eventual comedown once the realities of life there sunk in. I was always comparing Cambodia and Vietnam and which place was better for what reason, throwing Bangkok into the mix (another city I’ve spent a lot of time in and have quite the passion for). Moving back to Sydney a few years later was a ridiculously massive adjustment after living in Asia and it took at least six months or more to accept the fact I no longer lived there. I knew I wasn’t alone, as close friends made in Cambodia and Vietnam had also moved home to countries in the West, and were struggling with the lifestyle change. Hilariously, some of the loudest advocates for moving back home were the ones missing Asia the most. Sometimes, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone, or in this case how amazing a place is until we leave.

A holiday back to the region was the perfect remedy for my restlessness – perhaps this was the solution I was looking for, like the best of both worlds. I could live in my comfortable Sydney home surrounded by my own furniture and things, have family nearby and clean streets and air and all those wonderful things Australia has to offer, while having an intense dose of Asia and all its sensory delights before jetting back home again. I sometimes wish there was a way to divide my time more evenly between Australia and Asia so I could split my life in two, but for now the occasional holiday will have to suffice. Staying in touch with friends from past lives and homes helps keep the memories alive, and armchair travelling in the form of escaping with books and blogs about favourite places help fan the wanderlust flames…until the next plane ticket to happiness is booked.

March 23, 2012 5 comments

5 interesting facts about Australia

1.  Australia is now the most obese country in the world, just pipping the US at the post with a 26% obesity rate to their 25%. Despite Australia being a sport loving nation there’s obviously a whole lot of armchair sport loving going on, with beer, soft drink or greasy takeaway in hand!

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February 3, 2012 18 comments

A taste of the Middle East in Sydney’s Lakemba

If falafels, shisha pipes, rosewater drinks and Lebanese pastries don’t scream ‘Sydney’ to you then you may be spending too much time in the city’s swankier, leafier, beachier addresses. Sydney visitors, and indeed residents, can experience a taste of the Middle East on their own doorstep just a short train ride away.

Sydney, in case you haven’t discovered, can be a tribal kind of place. There is the glamourous, beach dotted east, the leafy and prosperous north shore, the bohemian inner west, the parochial south and the sprawling expanses of working class suburbia and culturally diverse suburbs to the west. Sydney residents often stick to their own tribe, to the extent that crossing the harbour bridge can evoke accusations of ‘crossing over to the dark side’ – the dark side being the opposite direction to where you dwell.

More open minded and adventurous Sydney-siders are branching out and discovering neighbourhoods beyond their backyards, whether influenced by a local food show on TV or a passionate food blog, or even by joining a food tour to a particular part of the city with interesting eats.

One suburb well worth exploring is Lakemba, found 15 kilometres south west of the city. Home to a large Muslim population, Lakemba’s residents have origins from the Middle East to Africa, to the subcontinent and South East Asia. Arabic is the suburb’s most spoken language according to Australian census data, followed by English and then Chinese.

By taking a stroll along bustling Haldon Street, Lakemba’s main drag, it soon becomes apparent this is a great place to eat, particularly for lovers of all things Middle Eastern. There are Lebanese sweet shops laden with sweet and sticky baklava, halal barbeque chicken shops, delis purveying nuts, dates, and spices, and there’s even an Egyptian gift shop featuring drums and toy mosques.

Some of Sydney’s most revered (and cheap, and generously portioned) Lebanese food can be found at the legendary Jasmin’s, with similarly delicious fare at Al Aseel. There’s even a café devoted solely to falooda’s, a rosewater based milk drink of Persian origins which is popular in the subcontinent. Among the mix is a Hyderabadi biryani restaurant, an Indonesian ‘warung’ and possibly one of the city’s most unique eateries, Island Dreams Café featuring cuisine from Christmas and Cocos Islands (think Malaysian style food, with a tropical twist).

The people watching in Lakemba can be just as fascinating as the eating and food shopping; with residents hailing from all over the planet found lounging at a streetside café or stocking up on fruit at one of the market-style fresh produce shops with amazingly cheap prices. Some are getting their hair braided at the African hairdressers, while others are trawling the fabric stores for headscarves or flowing robes.

Lakemba offers a window into the world of multi-cultural Australia, and through the universal language of food (and its close cousin, shopping) offers the opportunity for some fascinating cross-cultural insights and exchanges. The beach can wait for another day.

January 20, 2012 5 comments