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May 04

Bright Lights

Denise linked to this article which has a blurb saying, “People move to Sydney seeking fortune and opportunity in the bright lights. But many leave despondent, friendless and fed up with living a shallow existence.”

I found it peculiar to read Sydney being described as a “hard city”, full of superficiality, materialism and hard knocks. After all, Sydney is still Australian, and the Aussie lifestyle is generally laid back and less rushed than most other industrialised countries. Shops still close at 5pm.

I haven’t spent a significant amount of time in a foreign city, but I would say that Sydney doesn’t approach anywhere near the “hardness” of other “global cities”. New York, for instance, emasculates Sydney in terms of this. Property prices are extreme, people there are snappy, and it’s a pretty intimidating city that unmistakeably means business. A friend who attended Columbia Uni there told me of how when he first moved to NY, he had to rent out a small one-bedroom apartment while waiting for campus accommodation. He shared the apartment with a friend, paying US$700/mo for a hole in a ghetto area.

Even Singapore, which is smaller than Sydney, projects a “harder” lifestyle. Life is faster, people stress more, and status is a key part of society. Singaporeans ooze materialism. Few Sydney-siders would brazenly ask questions like “How much do you earn?” and “Is your family rich?” to people they’ve just met. There’s even an age old apothegm there which dictates what every Singaporean needs, called the “5 Cs”: credit card, cash, car, condominium and country club membership. (Well, that’s actually 7 Cs, but who’s counting?) There’s superficiality for you, and it’s a product of the city’s culture.

Judging how friendly a city is can be misleading. You only meet a handful of people when you’re in a city, and you have good and bad days. Although the article claims it’s hard to make friends in Sydney, Sydney proved it could be friendly during the Olympics. A small city isn’t necessarily friendly. Another friend claimed that Adelaide, which is really just a really big country town, “freaked him out” because the people there were pretty rude. I didn’t find that the case. But then again, I found Parisiennes helpful and the Swiss obnoxious. It’s just a matter of personal experience.

One overriding factor is that you’re normally going to feel more at ease in a city you’ve grown up in. If you’ve moved from another city, then you’ll feel more comfortable with people who have also come from your home city. You grow up feeling attached to a city’s character. The densely packed crowds and constant hustle and bustle of activity in Hong Kong is an endearing part of the city for its residents. It’s something they’ve got used to, and Honkies who have moved to Sydney may understandably find the relative quiet here quite boring. Conversely, the opposite is true.

However, I would agree that Sydney is probably becoming more materialistic and consumerism is more pervasive. Fashion is a bigger issue than it was ten years ago. Cuisine here has blossomed. Perhaps it’s just the natural process of a city becoming more “global”, and thus by extension, more “globally aware”. I love Sydney, but that’s not a revelationary statement coming from a Sydney-sider.

(Shrapnel, I know you’ve been in Sydney for a few months now – how do you find it compared to Vancouver?)