To be honest, when I left the Australia in 2010, I had never had a plan to set my foot in the country again. But there I was, taking a trip in Sydney for three weeks last year. Something inside me made a quest to go back to where I spent my life for almost ten years—my second home.
My then departure was quite a bitter change from an uncertainty in Sydney to another life chapter back in Bangkok. But then again, I decided to take another big turn taking a job in Washington DC. Living in the States triggered me to explore myself what I was made of. In another word, it was a homesick, not just for Bangkok but also Sydney.
Over the years, I have developed a fondness of craft beer. It could not be possible to resist exploring Australian brew when I got down there.
My drink list wasn’t as long as food craving mission. The very first beer I got had to be Coopers pale ale at the Bank Hotel, one of my favourite spots to watch the world flowing by. Coopers and James Squire were the two established breweries I was longing for. There were also my new-found favourite local craft beer, especially Young Henrys from Newtown. Shame that I didn’t get a chance to visit their bar.
That was simply because my the pub time was in the regular one, Kelly’s on King. And another one that I went more often this trip was the Townie, where I stopped for variety of Young Henrys and to write travel journals.
It was good to see that Kelly’s, the Townie, and Warren View Hotel still had as the same vibe as when I left the city. Most of others in the local has changed. The Duke and Newtown Hotel became so hipster. The Sando was renamed to Newtown Social Club even tough it got the same spirit.
Closer to Sydney’s CBD, Lansdowne Hotel is gone. The Clare Hotel turned posh. However, Stonewall Hotel on Oxford Street were still the same gay bar. And fortunately, Brighton Up Bar were as a dive bar as I hoped it would be.
Although the pub wasn’t my usual spot because of the location but it always have a special place in my heart. It was where I started transitioning works. One day in winter 2007, I randomly sat down there to write a script for Anywhere Chairs while sipping beer. Since then, I found pubs have been my preferred choice of writing environment.
These materials were actually pivotal for my creative works. They transitioned me from photography into making videos. It started from a short film about abandoned chairs, then ambient videos on a red sofa. When I got into COFA, broken TVs were used for a looped video assignment. And it concluded with video installation about torn mattresses.
No one would care how they got there or how they would end but they were so intriguing to me that I needed to exercise my imagination to tell their stories. Having explored them again reminded me how beauty could be discovered from discarded lives on the streets.
On another aspect, I was thinking of doing urban landscape comparison between my old photography and the latest visit. But there was no concrete plan for it and I enjoyed drifting in the streets and back lanes. However, I got a chance to do only one properly.
When you have lived somewhere in a long time, you developed your own local comfort food. That absolutely happened to me in Sydney.
In fact, the first thing I did was getting to Happy Chef for their Crispy Skin Chicken. And through out the Sydney trip, it was my quest to soothe my cravings for food I used to have.
It was a big list from Aussie big brekky to Indian diner and late night kebabs. And I barely got a room for something new. But some dish could be done somewhere new, like lamp shank in Manly Beach or fish & chips in Bondi. Nevertheless, I got to have a real good Turkish ice cream for the first time.
I tried to avoid Thai since it became redundant for me in Bangkok. However, Stilgherrian introduced me to the best of my all-time favourite dish, tub waan. Yes, tub waan at C Bar was better than average shop in the original Thailand. And when I had a night out with Thai friends at the very same pub, they also ordered it. That just confirmed it.
It is fair to say that Australian food has its own characteristics. I used to question it about Australian food. But I look at the variety of cuisines it offered just in Newtown/Enmore area. (And King Street never fell short of Thai restaurants and that’s a fact!)
Furthermore, my cooking also evolved around it with Aussie twist. When I got frustrated that there was no Thai dish my family used to cook for us so I had to make it myself. Then, it gradually had the spin of its own. For examples, kangaroo panang curry and roast chicken stuffed with rice in home-made curry paste. And it went further than Thai cuisine to, to name a few, Fijian-Indian curry, minestrone, cauliflower & blue cheese soup, beetroot & feta salad, my own spin of bolognese sauce. Like they do in Australia.
It’s a full day in Detroit and could be a chance to explore the Motor city. But after the intense night of internal journey, I feel like taking it easy with no concrete plan. That turns out to be a long interesting excursion.
The first thing in the morning is to get breakfast. Apparently, there are not many choices around the AirBNB place I stay. In fact, the only café opens on Sunday morning is quite a walk away. I don’t mind it at all as that gives me some good snapshots of the neighbourhood.
The blights are still apparent. But there are some renovations going on as well. Even though I’m very into abandoned places, this is not in the right time to go deep into it, not when I haven’t done background research.
Nice walk, exquisite muesli and lovely muffin, then what’s next? Look it up to and pin the destination to GM Renaissance Centre it is. That’s a long walk but it’s a riverside walk. And hey, there’s actually a brewery along the way. Let’s just make it the first stop.
At Atwater Brewery, I start to seriously think about crossing border to Canada. And so, the next destination is a brewery in Windsor. As an Australian passport holder, there shouldn’t be a problem about it. But the real issue for me is how to get to the right information about the Tunnel Bus service to take me there.
There’s the last bus stop in Detroit to pick up passengers just outside GM Renaissance Centre. But I have to walk around and around to find it. The location of the bus stop is on Google Map but there’s no direction sign of it on the ground. I finally get there and find it does look just like a normal bus stop with no ticket office. The fare is $5 (either US or Canadian) but I have to pay double because the bus only accepts cash with no change and the smallest note I have is $10. The whole process of this frustrates and tires me physically and mentally. But that adds to my new learning experience.
With this frustration and tiredness, I become so goofy when responding to the Canadian Border officer. My short answer to why I am entering Canada is ‘just to get a beer’. It feels that I make an honest fool of myself but seems honest enough to get a stamp.
It feels different in Canada. Of course, it is not USA but there is some atmosphere that is more resemble to Australia. I can’t explain but feel it. Maybe this is just a bias. Even at Craft Heads Brewery, where I spend the rest of the afternoon and enjoy huge range of craft bee, give the same comfy as a pub in Sydney.
Catching the bus back to Detroit seems to be easier now but with a sniffer dog at the US side. I end up in a random bar in Detroit’s downtown for dinner and one last local beer.
The day with no real plan turns to be a long exploration. I take over 20,000 steps of walking (around 12.8 km) with six beers from two breweries and a bar in two countries. I am tired.