When I think of Christmas, I usually think of falling snow, tall, fragrant fir trees and the warmth coming from flickering candles. Romantic, I know. I certainly don’t think of scorching heat, plastic trees and body glitter.
Out of boredom, I’ve been on a bit of a Tinder roll lately, if you can call it that. At first I went on a few dates with Mathew, and then Matthew, and then I got the two of them mixed up.
Sydney, Australia: I turn 24 and take on the ultimate big girl challenge – cooking Christmas dinner
I have Sharon back with me now, and all is good. After two weeks of intense househunting, we move into an unfurnished apartment in Randwick with Bernie, whom we met on Gumtree. Yes, he could have been a total creep, and yes, he actually is. But in a good way. Our flat is a two bedroom apartment right by the junction, a 15 minute walk to Coogee beach and 20 minutes by bus to Bondi Junction and the CBD. We pick up a new hobby: finding free stuff on the streets and dragging it all the way home. From bar stools to heavy coffee tables, we always find ourselves hungover on a hot day, trying to carry heavy stuff home.
We do pay for some things, though. Like we buy our beds in IKEA, which turns out to be a traumatizing experience for me, as a staff member starts verbally abusing me for bringing a prepaid item through the store. We spend an entire afternoon in Maroubra, visiting people who’ve put up their TV for sale, only to have our phones die on us, no idea of how to get home, and no TV – but we find a free foosball table, so it’s all good.
Work is going well, although I will always have a love/hate for hospitality. One minute I am chatting to regular customers like they’re an old friend, another minute I’ll be insulted by someone because I don’t remember their name.
My 24th birthday is spent in the apartment with Bernie, who’s throwing things at me while I dodge them with a cricket bat we found outside – I wasn’t kidding about the finding free stuff hobby. We fill up water bottles with goon and mimosas and carry them to Coogee beach, along with some music and much needed sunscreen. A bit tipsy and way too hot, I go into the water, where a series of waves continuously knock me over and pull off my bikini until I finally am able to stand up and cover myself up and walk back to safety. We get back home and have a nap, and then a few Mildura people come over for drinks.
The last day at work before Christmas break, one of my regulars surprise me with a really thoughtful present – a note, a candy cane and my favorite chocolate (how does she know!?) and my life it pretty much made. Guess I’m not too bad at this job after all. Later that day, a couple of people from work meet up for few drinks that turn into way too many, and then I dominate at a game of Laser Tag at the Arcade. We go in the bumper cars and play a 3D zombie game and then head off to Scary Canary (yes, really) where I lose the crowd and is being chatted up by a very aggressive Aussie who thinks having a membership to the Randwick races is a proper pick up line. We move on to Star Bar (I think?) and then Macca’s for a late night snack. I’m home at like 3.30, so I would definitely call that progress, since I am usually dead at midnight.
I enjoy a couple of days of beachy weather, resulting in awkward tan lines, before the weather turns into proper Northern European Christmas weather. I go to see the Christmas light projections at St. Mary’s Cathedral with Craig, and we even go inside and light some candles and don’t even go up in flames. Guess I’m alright with God after all.
Now, I’ve taken on the ultimate big girl task: cooking traditional Christmas dinner for my room mates. Danish Christmas dinner, that is. If having me running around all the shops in Randwick looking for red cabbage and making cherry sauce from scratch THE DAY BEFORE Christmas isn’t grown-up enough for you, then get off my lawn. I am putting a lot of pressure on myself, pretty much having nightmares about not cooking the meat right.
I get up early on the 24th, MY actual Christmas, and FaceTime my mom’s side of the family. They’re all pretty drunk and cheery, and I have just woken up and put on a Santa hat. I watch some Christmas movies with Bernie throughout the day to get in the Christmas spirit, before I start cooking. Even though I face some challenges along the way, we have our Christmas dinner at around 8 o’clock (because Sharon had to work late), and it tastes pretty much exactly like it should. We have roast pork with crackling, caramelized potates, red cabbage, gravy made from scratch(!), rice pudding and cherry sauce. Well done, Christine.
I go to bed and pass out after eating a few Skittles, still wearing my clothes and make-up. I’m exhausted from cooking all day, and actually a bit grumpy. Christmas is stressful. I wake up early the next day to FaceTime my dad’s side of the family, still exhausted, but at least wearing make-up from yesterday. After a shower, a short nap and some getting ready, Sharon and I go down to Coogee beach with 7 ciders each, and no sunscreen.
We find a nice patch of grass among all the other backpackers wearing Santa hats. Note to self: not only remember sunscreen and possibly a tent for shade next time, get a Christmas tree and a BBQ as well. We are clearly not prepared for this. We just sit in the sun for hours, drinking ciders and talking crap, before we’re joined by Craig, Malin and her friend Hannah.
After 5 hours or so, we are sunburned and tired, so we go to Macca’s, which is the only place open for Christmas, and we eat our dinner on the way home. We bump into some guys that helped us carry our heavy coffee table home the other day, and wish we weren’t so sunburned that we could go back to the beach with them. Instead, we get home, where Bernie’s mom and little brother have arrived. We take cold showers, have a chat with them, and then go to bed around 10. We’ve survived our first Christmas away from home with just a minor heat stroke and an awful sunburn.
Mildura, Australia: I’ve got a job and purple hair
Oh, Mildura. It’s one of those places that kind of feels like home in the “oh shit, I’m stuck here forever” kind of way. The population is around 30,000 plus a shit ton of backpackers who stay here for orange picking and vine pruning. The city center is so small, it can be fully explored within 5 minutes. In short, Mildura is really, really small and really, really quiet – but not really.
We arrive on the 5th of June and move into a freezing house with two French guys and one Italian guy, Andrea. After a few days, our “hostel owner” Vickey moves us to the little cream house on 78 Seventh Street, right on the border of New South Wales. It’s a more centrally located and much smaller house in which Dave, John and Joe from England, and Davide from Italy are already living in. Two bedrooms turned into dorm rooms, a small kitchen and one bathroom. One bathroom for – at one point – almost 10 people.
Living with so many English people, I often forget I’m in Australia. I live in a house where people say “half nine” instead of nine thirty or half past nine. When something’s inexpensive, they might say it is “cheap as chips” – chips are fries, not potato chips, by the way. And for some odd reason, it’s all starting to make sense to me, who learned English by watching American movies.
We are here to complete 88 days of farmwork for our 2nd year visa. At first, everyone is doing pumpkins on a farm, while I work at a vineyard.
After a few days of rain, we start work in a factory – MFC. I sort rotten oranges from good ones, Sharon operates the machine that packs the fruit into boxes, and the rest of the guys stack the boxes so they’re ready to load onto trucks. I keep myself entertained by finding naughty-looking oranges.
With the days usually spent on work and catching up on Game of Thrones, not a lot of things happen in our lives. We try to keep things fun by going bowling, beer tasting, watching Magic Mike XXL twice, treating ourselves to good food, getting drunk and falling asleep instead of going to bars, and so on. Oh, and dying my hair purple.
On the 25th of July, we decide to celebrate Christmas (it is Winter, after all) and invite the neighboring house. Sharon and I decide to go crazy with the planning, walking 10 K to go shopping for party stuff one day, and taking the hugest trolley around town for food and alcohol shopping the next. We even buy stockings and little personal presents for all of our roommates, spending over $ 100 each. On “Christmas Day”, we all eat our dinner for lunch and get day drunk on the porch, and I end up getting extremely anxious and end up sobbing in my room before crawling out of the window to go for a two-hour long walk in the park. When I come back, everyone’s wasted to the point where they decide to go out, while I pass out in bed.
Sharon and I make up for it on Sunday by getting day drunk, eating pizza on the porch and listening to the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack for the 100th time.
So, you see, Mildura’s not so quiet, after all.