Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fireworks, yum cha and vodka by Sheila Claydon

I'm living in Sydney, Australia for a few months. The deal is a winter in the sun in exchange for caring for my nine month old baby granddaughter on the days when both her parents are working. 

So what is it like living in a small city apartment instead of a sprawling house in a village on the northwest coast of England? Well on a daily basis it's not so different. There are still chores to be done and meals to be prepared. True the garden has shrunk to a few pots and a raised bed on the balcony, but there is still greenery, and the wind that whistles up from the harbour is every bit as blustery as the wind back home. The view is very different though. Instead of trees and fields I have a bird's eye view of the city skyline. I also have the added benefit of a pool and a spa and, of course,  the endless warmth that is Australia. No jackets needed, nor shoes really except to be polite. Instead, suncream, dark glasses, a hat and bottled water are de rigueur when leaving the apartment.

The other differences are more interesting though. My daughter-in-law is Chinese and my son has a Russian boss. This means that as well as Australians and Tasmanians they have many friends in the immigrant community, so over Christmas and the New Year I met American lawyers and chemical engineers, a Chinese tea importer and a Russian who owns several diamond mines, Chinese, South American and English bankers, a Phillipino nurse, accountants and financial analysts from China, property investors from Japan, China and Tasmania, an Australian clothes importer, a retired Australian TV producer,  IT specialists from India, the UK and Japan, and other immigrants from Singapore, France, Vietnam and Spain as well as a whole lot of children with the blood of two nations in their genes. It was an eclectic and fascinating mix and everyone of them without exception was friendly, outgoing and full of confidence. Inevitably this rainbow nation has given me a whole lot of ideas for future books, so many in fact that it's unlikely I'll ever be able to use them all.

More importantly, I've learned a lot about the traditions of other cultures. Although it's obviously a generalisation, I've discovered that many Asian parents co-sleep with their children in the early years. The mothers also follow their toddlers from room to room with a bowl of food or a drink in order to spoon a morsel into their mouths whenever they can. Despite having a well paid and successful career some of the brightest women succumb to their ancestral traditions, another of which includes being confined to bed for a month after giving birth while their mother takes care of the baby. Fortunately, from my perspective, my highly educated daughter-in-law refused to comply when her own daughter was born and my granddaughter is fast becoming a robust Australian who sits happily in her high chair, eats everything offered and  sleeps 7 - 7, alone, in her own bed. 

I've learned that manners vary enormously too and so do eating habits. On the whole the Chinese eschew anything sweet, never drink wine with rice, eat enormous amounts of vegetables and are very health conscious, whereas Europeans, Australians and Americans prefer BBQs with large quantities of meat and fish, rarely refuse the fries, and are happy to drink wine or beer with everything. 

Dress is very casual too. Shorts, t-shirts and thongs are the order of the day whether it's a BBQ, a shopping trip, or a day at the beach, and every Friday is 'Dress Down Friday' at work. The only exception is a party and even then it's mostly the women who turn on the glamour. And how the people of Sydney party. Celebrations started at the beginning of December and carried on until well after the New Year. Now they are enjoying a short hiatus before Australia Day and then it will be the Chinese New Year. 

The thing I've noticed more than anything though, is how young the population is. Everywhere I go there are young people enjoying themselves and pregnant women and babies of all nationalities, shapes and sizes. In the city as well as at the tourist spots there are fathers pushing strollers, tiny babies in carriers, toddlers tripping over their own feet, and older children, brown as berries, dancing along in thongs and shorts. Of course with all this youth comes technology and on the train the other day my husband and I were amused to discover we were the only people actually conversing. Everyone else in the very crowded carriage was plugged into a device be it an iPod, a cell phone or an electronic reader. 

Best of of all, however, was my meeting with an Anglo Indian from London who is married to an American lawyer and lives in New York. She was visiting her brother and his Chinese wife for the festive season - the ethic mix in Australia is truly mind blowing. Discovering that I am a writer  she not only downloaded Mending Jodie's Heartthe first book of my When Paths Meet trilogy, while she was talking to me, she also told me she was taking it to her book club as soon as she returned to the States. She did, however, check with me first that the heroine was feisty and independent. If not then the book was an absolute no no! As if I would ever write anything else.....

And lastly and most intriguingly I met Lady Sippington but you'll have to wait until next month's post to discover her story.

Many of my books can be found on the Books We Love website at