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.
My creative time in Sydney was always around Newtown area. And this particular tunnel intrigued me the most and always got me something whether I walked through, or took time to examine it, or used it as a shooting location.
There’s a long history for me with it at least since 2002. It is a must for me to get there and drown myself in it.