As the Boston sunlight streams through my window, memories of my home in sunny Perth, the capital of Western Australia, fill my thoughts.
I remember warm, tranquil holidays spent lying on the clean, white
sand of one of the city's spacious beaches with my friends. As we waited for the bus to take us to the ocean, sometimes an elderly, white-haired woman, known by us locals as the "Bird Lady," would hobble nearby. Suddenly she would straighten up and, looking into the blue sky, make a piercing, high-pitched whistle. Responding to a familiar call, thousands of pigeons would descend upon us from seemingly nowhere. "Hallo loves," she would croon affectionately as she stooped to throw the breadcrumbs that were
stuffed in her bag. " `Ere you go, dearies." As we stepped onto the bus, I could see that the Bird Lady's wizened face was lively and animated by her joy in her friends.
On the beach, I would become lost in my thoughts and daydreams. Closing my eyes to the sparkling blue of the ocean, I would hear in the distance the gentle lapping of waves, the cries of seagulls, and voices of children playing. Underneath the bright, hot sun, I would make exciting career plans or dream of visiting exotic foreign lands. Only a friend speaking to me would interrupt the train of my thoughts.
In our bare feet, we would stroll around Fremantle, the seaport that became famous in 1983 when it hosted the America's Cup boat race. We'd browse in bookstores, and sit in an outdoor Italian cafe with our cappuccinos or gelati, and lazily bask in the sunshine.
My summer holidays seemed to stretch out endlessly, the days easily melting into each other.
I did not always feel at home in Western Australia. I was born in Ohio, and moving to Perth at the age of six was an enormous shock. My accent differed from those of other primary school kids, who spoke "Strine," or Australian, and I had to wear a checkered uniform that felt stiff and heavy. We no longer recited the Pledge of Allegiance while facing the American flag each morning, but a portrait of an unfamiliar woman wearing a crown hung in the schoolroom. I was introduced to such strange Australian mea ls as baked beans or spaghetti on toast for breakfast, a casserole known as "bubble and squeak," and of course, Vegemite thinly spread over bread, which tasted bitter and awful to me.
Seated among fallen pine cones on the grass at my primary school, I told my friend one day that I was born in America. "That's funny, you don't sound like it," she said, surprised. I realized that, at some point, I had become an Australian.
Amid the sharp, fresh scent of eucalyptus trees and the bright red Western Australian wildflowers known as "kangaroo paws," I played cricket and netball, a game similar to basketball, with my school friends. Surrounded by black swans, we had fish and chips and "barbies," or barbecues, by the Swan River - named before it was discovered that Perth's main waterway is indeed shaped like a swan.
I became accustomed to hearing the raucous, infectious laughter of kookaburras - brown-colored birds with white ruffled heads - in the early morning and seeing gawky-looking pelicans on the river each day, which carried themselves with a quiet dignity.
I continue to marvel, however, at the plump, fluffy koalas that can be seen at the Yanchep National Park, an hour from the city, at the grace and agility of the kangaroos, and at the incredible ugliness of the emus - birds with long, sloping, black necks, humped, feathered backs, and protruding toes.
I even adopted an Australian accent. Such expressions as "She'll be right," "No worries," and, on occasion, "How're you goin', mate?" entered my vocabulary.
Leaving behind the easygoing manner of Australia, I recently came to live in Boston. I was shocked by the raw cold and bewildered by the search for a suitable apartment. The city seemed noisy and congested to me, accustomed as I was to the open space, large houses, and clean suburbs of Perth.
Now, after five months, I feel more at home here. I appreciate the beauty of Boston, a beauty different from Perth's, one of impressive, old buildings blazing with colored lights at night.
This city is filled with energy, with bustling people, with the sound of a jazz saxophone playing into the late hours, with life. I love the drama of Boston's history, the richness and variety of its culture, and the value placed upon learning and the search for new ideas.
I started my first day at my first job nervously. As I gave my name to the guard at the front door of the building, he asked me where I was from. After my reply, he smiled and said, "You sound good to me," most likely attempting to put me at ease.
My complaints about the cold weather have resulted in people graciously giving me bundles of warm clothes. I am impressed by the help and friendliness that Bostonians have shown to me - one that runs contrary to the preconceptions I formed from others' views.
Now the world does not seem as vast and unfamiliar as it once did. I've even discovered that there is a man who lives down the road who comes from the same suburb in Perth that I do.