The Adventures of a Japanese Woman (Part 4): Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia 1981~82
In 1981, my father accepted a position as exchange professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It took a very long time to secure the visa and we finally left Tokyo for Sydney at the end of September. I had finished eighth grade in June so it was a very long "summer" vacation.
A Japanese professor at the University of New South Wales welcomed us at the airport and checked us into a motel. He said we could stay there for a week while he and my father looked for a house for us to live in. My mother immediately disagreed. My siblings and I were ages 15, 13, and 12, so the daily grocery bills were steep (there was no kitchen in the motel) and paying for two rooms was expensive. The exchange rate between the Japanese yen and the Australian dollar was not very good at all, making everything very expensive in terms of Japanese yen. The professor agreed, and since he had already chosen two potential homes, it was easy to choose our home. Within a week, we moved into a rental home in Northbridge, a northern suburb in Sydney. It was furnished, and there were enough beds, two of which were stored in the garage.
The Car Problem
Since it was very difficult to commute to the university without a car, our first car was purchased almost immediately. There was a problem, however. There were no real shopping malls within walking distance, making it difficult for my mother to go shopping without a car. The mall in the neighborhood was hardly in operation and the nearest shopping mall was at least a ten minute drive away. My father suggested to my mother that they both go to the university together in the morning and then, my mother could go shopping by herself afterwards. She thought of doing this, but then decided against it since the drive over the Harbor Bridge was nothing but intimidating. The bridge was narrow and the traffic was heavy. After a few months, a second car was purchased.
My brother and sister enrolled in the Japanese school which was a 45 minutes` drive away. There was a school bus service. I enrolled at the local public all girls` high school. It was about 2 km away, so I could walk there which I did a few times, but there was a free bus service so I commuted mostly on the bus. The bus commute became a social time for the students. We would all be chatting. I had problems understanding my classmates` Aussie English in the beginning, but got used to it after a while. I had no problems understanding what went on in class.
Because I had come directly from Japan, the teachers assumed I was not fluent in English and placed me in ESL. (English as a second language) Before long, the ESL teacher decided the class was too easy for me and moved me up to the English class with native speakers.
THE `INTERNATIONAL` PUBLIC SCHOOL
The school I attended during the week was a public school and it was an all girls school. The student body was more international than the school I had attended in Tokyo. There were Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Lebanese and a few Asian students who were from Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Again, I was the only Japanese in the entire school like I was at the school in Culvery City.
I met a few nice girls but when I moved up to the English class for native speakers, I became a target of bullying. This one girl who was the "leader" started spreading rumors that I was stocking up on drugs and that I was a potential drug dealer! I tried to ignore them, but they would bother me when I would be in the library. The bullying became quite stressful and I would cry myself to sleep at nights but I never discussed it with my mother or anyone. My mother, as she would later tell me, was rather unhappy living in the rental home with no social life of her own.
The Family Trip and the "Incident"
The Family Trip
Although the exchange rate between the Australian dollar and the Japanese yen made everything very expensive, we still managed a few trips. The furthest trip we took was to Melbourne. We took the overnight train to Melbourne with our car onboard and spent four nights in two different cities. My father did all the driving and as we were driving back to Sydney, we nearly hit a giant lizard, which was about 5 ft in length! We drove about 800 km over the course of two days. Australia sure is a big country and we had only been in Victoria, the state located south of New South Wales, where we lived.
During our stay in Sydney, my father had to make a temporary return to Japan. My grandfather had become ill and was hospitalized. My father was gone for about a week, but during that time, I stirred up trouble, although it was totally against my intentions.
An Indonesian friend and I took the bus to the local public library. We took the free school bus service there, but we had to come back on the local bus by ourselves. For some reason, it never occurred to us that the bus service would stop for the day, even before it was dark. We finished our research at the library and were waiting at the bus stop around 5 pm. The bus did not arrive and we were stuck at the bus stop for the longest time. There was no time table at the bus stop and we never thought of looking it up somewhere (no cell phones back in the day, so we couldn`t google it!) . It started to get dark and we were getting worried. We finally realized the bus service had probably finished for the day. We had to find a pay phone to contact one of our parents. Finally, my friend called her parents, and thanks to the chauffeur who came and picked us up, I arrived home safely. I got home and saw my mother in a state of panic.
My mother had thought I had gotten into trouble, and she asked for help from our neighbor. The neighbor, Mrs. Ledlin, was teaching scripture class once a week at the school I attended and she had the contacts of all the parents. She called up every one of them and asked them if they knew where I was. I couldn`t understand why my mother would panic so much. However now with two children of my own, I would be very worried if the same happened to my daughter or son!
In late August 1982, we left Sydney and toured Singapore for three days before returning to our home in Tokyo.
That was our whirlwind stay in Sydney, which lasted for a year!