Going Southeast to Reach the West

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Australia, Oceania

Basking in the Sun at Sydney’s Hyde Park

One of the perks of living in Asia is having all those beautiful, magnificent and intriguing cultures right at my doorstep. From the gilded stupa of Shwedagon in Myanmar and the gold-leafed dome of Brunei’s Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque to Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, Asia is home to a multitude of shining monuments built in different styles. From India to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and back home in Indonesia, there is no shortage of astonishing ancient temples in the continent, each one richly embellished with intricate carvings and statues. Since my first trip to Europe in 2007, I have never been to any other Western countries as Asia keeps calling me to explore its colorful corners – with the sole exception being Istanbul, the city that straddles both continents.

It took me a good ten years to visit a Western country again. This time, however, I headed southeast, not west. Located in the southeastern perimeter of Asia, Indonesia is bordered with Papua New Guinea to the extreme east – home of the Melanesian people, one of the main cultural groups that make up the Pacific nations – and Australia to its southeast. With a lot of curiosities in my head – ‘how has Australia’s geographical position influenced its culture?’, ‘what has the country done in relation to its aboriginal population?’, ‘what can other countries learn from Australia?’ – and its relative proximity to Jakarta, I finally went ‘Down Under’ this year. Being both a country and a continent, Australia is one big place to explore. However, as an introductory trip, two of the country’s largest cities that are also its main gateways to the rest of the world became the first places I explored in Australia.

Consistently ranked among the most livable metropolises on the planet – on the lists compiled by The Economist, Monocle and Mercer – Sydney and Melbourne are where roughly 40% of all Australians live. The oldest of all Aussie cities, Sydney is stunning with its scenic harbor, expansive parks, impressive skyline and excellent weather. On the other hand, though it is colder and the weather is far less predictable, Melbourne is quirky and fascinating in its own way with its daring architecture, lively multiculturalism, and artistic bent. Museums in both cities provide a good start to understand not only how Australia was ‘discovered’ and established as a modern state, but also why it is important to address issues in the past to ensure better living in the cities and the nation in the future.

For long Australia was a place where being a non-white resident meant limited opportunities and institutionalized discrimination. Through the museums young generations today can learn why discriminatory policies were overturned in the 1970s, Aboriginal rights are finally being addressed, and why embracing multiculturalism will bring more benefits to Australia. Coming to terms with its dark past is key to a nation’s progress, and Australia is certainly moving in the right direction by telling history as it is. This is something many Asian countries are still struggling to deal with as nationalism and a culture of ‘saving face’ are generally still more valued than logical truths. Sydney and Melbourne show that development is much more than building high-rise buildings, glass skyscrapers and fancy monuments. It’s about treating the people well by providing not only basic needs, but also things humans need to thrive – which leads to the perennial question, which one is more livable, Sydney or Melbourne?

The Sydney vs Melbourne – or Melbourne vs Sydney as Melburnians like to put it – rivalry is legendary, and it is conspicuous not only in the media, but also in some museums in both cities. To decide which one is better requires thorough study with broad parameters which I certainly won’t use. But through the upcoming posts on this blog I will eventually get to that question, Sydney or Melbourne?

Crossing Sydney Harbor where Beauty is in Abundance

Downtime at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Two of Sydney’s Most Iconic Landmarks: the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge

Burrata Cheese Meets Asian Ingredients, Sydney

Enjoying the Sun at Melbourne’s Carlton Gardens

The Parliament Building of Victoria (of which Melbourne is the state capital)

Federation Square in Downtown Melbourne

Paddlers and Rowers Making the Most of a Sunny Day on the Yarra River, Melbourne

Ethiopian Dishes on Brunswick Street, A Multicultural Area in Melbourne

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

53 thoughts on “Going Southeast to Reach the West”

  1. Membaca pertanyaan di akhir tulisanmu, aku jadi ingat ‘debat’ kecil antara beberapa teman yang pernah kuliah di sana. Dan mereka masing-masing ‘membela’ kota kampusnya. Padahal ya cuma kuliah aja, tapi sampai seru gitu. Sementara pertanyaanku yang menyela ‘debat’ mereka adalah: “Lalu kenapa ibukotanya di Canberra?” Hahahaha.

    Btw, masakan Ethiopia yang itu kaya apa rasanya? Penampilannya kaya bubur kacang ijo dicampur rendang, acar, sambel goreng ati, trus dikasih crepes. Asli bikin penasaran 😀

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    • Aku punya pendapat sendiri mengenai Sydney vs Melbourne ini, tapi ntar ya.. disimpen dulu. 🙂 Mengenai kenapa ibukotanya Canberra, aku kasih bocoran dikit. Ini ada hubungannya dengan persaingan antara Sydney dan Melbourne sebenernya. Jadi dulu Melbourne itu sempat jadi ibukota Australia. Tapi Sydney berkembang lebih cepat, dan Melbourne gak mau Sydney jadi ibukota. Akhirnya disepakati ibukota baru harus berada setidaknya 100 mil dari Sydney. Dipilihlah Canberra yang letaknya kurang lebih di tengah-tengah antara kedua kota itu.

      Yang kayak kacang ijo itu green lentil, aku gak tau namanya apa di Bahasa Indonesia. Tapi menurutku rasa semua masakan yang ada di foto itu bisa masuk ke lidah orang Indonesia karena banyak bumbu (meskipun gak setajam masakan India). Yang agak perlu penyesuaian mungkin injera-nya (yang kayak crepe itu). Jadi itu rotinya orang Ethiopia, teksturnya agak mirip sama martabak manis tapi lebih tipis, tapi rasanya cenderung asam.

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  2. Awesome shots and a great introduction for your future posts! Can’t wait to see Sydney and Melbourne through your lens 😉

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    • Thanks! Now I have those stories from Australia on the pipeline — I still have some stories from Japan, Vietnam and other places that I haven’t posted. 😀

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  3. Yay! A post about my home country. I look forward to hearing which city “wins”. I was born in Melbourne and lived there until I was 11 when my family moved to Canberra. I lived in Sydney as a young adult, and then in Melbourne again. But all this was a long time ago. I’ve been back to Sydney recently but not to Melbourne though Melbourne is easily my sister’s favourite city. Did you know that that Canberra was developed from nothing because Melbourne and Sydney were fighting over which city should be the Federal capital and they couldn’t come to an agreement?
    Alison

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    • As much as I want to tell you now, I really should wait. 🙂 How nice that you spent many years in both cities! I read about the inception of Canberra at the Museum of Sydney. Since losing its status as the capital of the new federation, Melbourne demanded the new capital to be at least 100 miles away from Sydney. I had no idea the rivalry between the two goes back to more than a century ago!

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  4. I enjoyed the Sydney’s history very much when I last visited. There’s still lots more to Sydney than just that but I stayed at the YHA in The Rocks area which was one of the most fascinating areas for me. I especially loved walking around the area to just look at the architecture of the buildings there. I spent 2 weeks in Sydney which everyone told me was too long but I honestly enjoyed slowly getting to know the city. Having been to both cities, I wanted to comment on the Sydney vs Melbourne but I thought I shall save that for your post on it instead. Shall look forward to your post instead. 🙂

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    • The Rocks was such a cool place. There was a small fair when I was there which made the entire neighborhood even more lively and interesting. I don’t mind spending two weeks in Sydney either, or Melbourne — both are among the nicest cities I’ve ever been. But I really should keep my opinion until the very last post on both cities. 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Sha!

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      • Haha, people told me I was crazy to stay so long in Sydney itself for 2 weeks but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there as I was able to slowly get to know the city…Melbourne is just as nice but they have different vibes to the city which I enjoy too…but I’ll save my thoughts for your last post as well…haha…:)

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      • Getting to know a city slowly is the best way to meeting interesting people, exploring the city’s hidden gems, and sampling a great variety of local food. After going to Sydney and Melbourne, now I’m really curious about Australia’s other big cities, i.e. Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

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      • Ahh, I’ve been to Perth but not the others…Perth may just surprise you too..definitely something different from Sydney and Melbourne…haha 🙂

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  5. Very interesting post about Australia Bama. I’ve always been interested in the Aboriginal cultures and their history from Australia and New Zealand. I like the points you bring up “why it is important to address issues in the past to ensure better living in the cities and the nation in the future” and “Coming to terms with its dark past is key to a nation’s progress,” I totally agree with this statements and I think younger generations are willing to hear these stories.

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    • Thanks Liz! Australia is gradually changing the treatment of Aboriginal people. Now the Aboriginal flag is flown at most government offices alongside with the national flag. At Melbourne Museum, a thought-provoking section called Bunjilaka doesn’t sugarcoat anything regarding to the relations between White Australians and the Aboriginal people. It was a very sobering experience for me, one that made me think of how in my home country a lot of issues desperately need to be addressed.

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    • I will dedicate a post solely on the dishes I tried in Sydney and Melbourne. They tell the stories of immigration, acculturation, aspiration and innovation of contemporary Australians.

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  6. Looking forward to more on your perspective. To me, both cities are becoming far too expensive (like where I live) for the average person to afford to live there unless they are 30 kms away from the central districts.
    I also have seen little of Europe — Asia still draws me.

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    • For some reason I found Melbourne slightly cheaper when it comes to food. However I did spend quite a lot of money on this trip — even more than the amount I spent in Japan! Some of your posts were instrumental in maximizing my experience in Melbourne, Mallee (the city skyline viewed from the Shrine of Remembrance and the free tram), so thank you for that!

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  7. I am going to give my unequivocal vote to Sydney … because I’ve never been to Melbourne! I have to think it is just as wonderful in its own way. We spent a good long time there one summer with a friend who lived north of Sydney, and we just adored everything about the city. I believe the Australians have embraced “logical truths” better than many developed nations, not just about their past but about current issues (I am mainly thinking guns right now). I look forward to reading about the city competition!

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    • On my first day in Sydney, the lunch was superb, the weather was nice and the clouds gradually cleared up. While waiting for the sunset from the Royal Botanic Gardens, I witnessed a very sweet proposal which showed Sydney’s multicultural society. Such a wonderful city, I thought — So I can completely relate to how you feel about the city. You know, every time a mass shooting happens in the US, I always think of Australia as the latter used to see a lot of gun-related violence as well. But look at it now; its cities are consistently ranked among the safest and most livable cities in the world.

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  8. I’m looking forward to more posts from Down Under and to see your conclusion on which is “better.” Now that I’m relatively closer I need to get there, but as you say, Asia has so many places and it is much cheaper!

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    • I guess when you do come to Australia, you should head to the Outback and take stunning photos of Uluru and Kata Tjuta — you’ll be in your element.

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  9. I have never been to Australia so it is interesting to see it through your eyes, lens and words. Seems like people either love it, or hate it. It appears to bring out extreme reactions.

    After living in Asia now for 3 years, Europe just doesn’t excite me in the way it used to, pre Asia. And I agree wholeheartedly that one of the best perks of living here is close proximity to other fascinating countries.

    I love your food pics….making me hungry!

    Peta

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    • I believe one of the things we enjoy so much from traveling is being in places so different from where we live or grew up. That’s why I enjoyed exploring the parks in Sydney and Melbourne, for example, because in Jakarta it’s rather hard to find a decent and convenient large public park. In addition to that, Australia’s large immigrant communities allowed me to try dishes from countries I’ve been dreaming of going: Ethiopia, Greece, Lebanon, and Colombia, to name some. I will write more about these soon.

      Thanks Peta! I hope you saw those food pics on a full stomach. 🙂

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  10. ‘Looking forward to reading more.

    I haven’t yet been to Australia, but I’ve heard that Melbourne is more like Berlin (where I live), and Sydney would probably be like Hamburg! Who knows? I’d like to see what you think when you get to it. ‘Great pictures as usual!

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    • Much appreciated, Victoria!

      That’s interesting! From what I read and heard about the two German cities, I can see why some people made that comparison. Later after I write the stories on Sydney and Melbourne you can decide whether the two really are comparable to Hamburg and Berlin, respectively.

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  11. Great article. I love the photos. I haven’t yet been to Australia, and is on my list of places to visit. Hopefully my business will grow so I can get the funds together to make the trip happen.

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  12. Having been to Australia not so long ago your post brought back many fond memories Bama. We spent more time in Sydney so I don’t think we have Melbourne a fair shake.

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    • Glad to know that, Sue. Both Sydney and Melbourne are very beautiful cities. I wonder if you had more time in Melbourne you would have loved it better because I saw more people riding bicycles there than in Sydney.

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  13. Coming to terms with the dark past is also Canada’s challenge. Here too just as in Australia the process of healing and reconciliation is attempting to bring a solution to past wrongs committed against the aboriginal people of Canada. Thank you for mentioning this problem in you informative post on Australia!

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    • Countries like Canada and Australia show the world that addressing tough issues like reconciliation with the Aboriginal people and the inclusion of previously marginalized communities are the only way forward. I believe everyone in this world wants his/her country to be prosperous and just. But many people don’t know how to get there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peter!

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  14. Trying to put together a travel calendar for next year and every post I read has me wanting to change plans! This is very enticing….and not just for that sensational looking burrata 🙂 Looking forward to your comparative study of Melbourne vs Sydney with interest Bama.

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    • That happens to me a lot! 😀 A travel plan still can change until the very moment I buy the flight tickets. I think you would love that burrata, Madhu. Overall in Sydney and Melbourne I never had food that was disappointing, not even one single dish. Please bear with me as I will publish the posts on Australia, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia in the upcoming weeks!

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    • I was inspired by a short article I read many years ago about a town in Ireland where if one goes south and cross the border, he/she will arrive in the north (Northern Ireland). Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the town.

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  15. Bama, as ever I’m impressed with how quickly you sorted through your photos and your efficiency when it comes to writing posts. To think that you published this barely a day after we came back from Australia – at the same time I was probably just resting or doing nothing much in particular. This is a beautiful introductory post and I’m interested to see how you will compare Sydney and Melbourne… though I already know which one you prefer. 😉

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    • Writing a post right after a trip is very challenging, indeed. But as I age, keeping the memories of things I felt, smelled, saw and heard from a trip becomes an even bigger challenge. 🙂 I know I have said a thing or two about what I think of Sydney and Melbourne. But I will keep the whole story until I finish writing about them.

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