Letter from Sydney

OMG! The Sydney Opera House

On a day like last Saturday, you might find yourself wrapping up a whirlwind series of events in a fun East Asian country.

You might be feeling the effects of little sleep and the need to be extroverted as you present yourself in various new and unfamiliar events. Hosting a talk show on Buddhist TV, for example, or perhaps being pelted by questions in the form of paper airplanes at a less formal event for readers.

It will all have been wonderful, no doubt, but you’ll also be in need of a change.

Then you might board a short Korean Airlines flight to Shanghai, China, a city you’ve never before visited … and promptly fall asleep upon arrival at your layover hotel. The next day you find yourself still tired despite the first full night’s sleep in a week, even feeling hungover from drinking all of one glass of white wine the night before.

So then you do the only reasonable thing—with nothing on the following week’s schedule, you fly ten hours south to the world’s greatest city, where you take a four-day sabbatical and catch up on your life.

G’Day from Sydney

You first discovered the real-life Narnia after getting stranded at the Brisbane airport a while back. You suddenly had nowhere to go and decided, hey, let’s pop down to Sydney. Then you came and were suitably amazed, having a great stay and vowing to return as often as you could.

On a walking tour you learned how the British sent their convicts to Sydney long ago, where upon landing at Circular Quay the convicts were astounded to see the Sydney Opera House looming in the distance, the gorgeous Harbor Bridge extending across the sky, and a 2-for-1 happy hour that had just started.

Another rumor has it that all visitors appreciate their first viewing of said Opera House with an expletive: “OMG! Look at that building! It’s the [redacted] Opera House!”

The convicts were supposedly being punished by a harsh English criminal justice system, but once they had their first taste of a crisp Australian riesling, they broke into laughter at the stupidity of their jailors. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

These convicts were undoubtedly lodged at the Park Hyatt, a strong contender on your list of top five favorite hotels in the world. Upon following their lead and checking in for a three-night stay, you might discover your room is assigned a butler, available night and day, who can even fetch you a yoga mat. (True, the yoga mat might not actually show up in your room until you place multiple reminder calls, this being a somewhat absent-minded butler … but it’s the thought that counts.)

Whether convict or modern traveler, your Hyatt Diamond status qualifies you for free breakfast at this hotel, where you sign a bill for everything you order and the balance is automagically reduced to $0.00 upon checkout. And yes, one morning you might even spend a full two hours sitting at this breakfast, looking out at the water, enjoying multiple flat whites (like a latte, except better) and bottomless bottles of San Pellegrino sparkling water, and signing a one-person breakfast bill for $54 (!) yet not paying a dime.

These three days might pass very quickly.

You might spend much of the time sitting on your balcony with 100 pages of draft manuscript notes in hand, marking up page after page and writing down everything else that you still need to write. It’s pleasant work. You have a long way to go, but you feel like you’re on track.

You might hop on a ferry at random and see where it leads. If you do, here’s a free lesson: “North Sydney High Street” does not mean an actual shopping street like it does in London or anywhere else. Instead, it means “Random place in the middle of nowhere.” Those Aussies are such jokers.

In the evening you might venture to the Gin Garden, a hideaway you discovered on your first visit to the Kingdom of Narnia two years ago. Afterwards, you might consider plans for the next hour or two. Is the night over? Time to head back to the room? Of course not! You’re in Sydney, Australia! Better make it count.

Keep walking. Keep wandering. Just make sure you have good footwear.

So you wander on, discovering another fun bar high atop Customs House near the ferry terminal. This bar is more upscale, perhaps one of the few spots in the land of paradise to require a dress code, and upon entering you are asked if you have a reservation. You apply your Jedi mind skills to this exchange.

“No reservation … but I’d like a table, please.”

The barman shows you to a table. It’s Australia! They can’t say no!


Sure, there are a few challenges. The internet as it’s known in the rest of the world has yet to arrive in paradise. Rumor is it will get better with some sort of new pipeline, but until then it’s slow going, mate.

Two weeks from now, when their browser finally refreshes this post, the good folks who live in Australia can chime in with their experiences of going on holiday to some foreign locale and discovering that other people can actually watch videos online. Sometimes they can even transfer large files to someone else in a foreign land! Amazing.

And yes, it’s a long-ass way to get to Australia from pretty much everywhere else except New Zealand. But that’s the point! They’re keeping everyone out! If everyone could come here all the time, it would be like California: nice enough to visit, sure, but hardly the world’s most amazing place.

The next day you might plan to wake up early for a long run, but settle instead for another long breakfast, with french toast this time. Why not?

But then you’ll run at lunchtime, a bit more than five miles around the Botanical Gardens and across the Harbour Bridge in another ritual you’ve followed on every previous trip. Whoa. Those views.

This hour-long excursion might produce the slight effects of sunburn and dehydration, but it is oh-so -worth-it.

The french toast comes with bananas and berries and chocolate.

The sauvignon blanc is on special at the Orient Hotel.

One day the emails you’ve queued up in your outbox will actually send.

Everyone asks you how you’re going, in a very Australian way. Eventually you learn not to say “Oh, I’m not going anywhere. I’ve just arrived.”


Another sun sets in Sydney Harbour, all too soon, and it comes time to leave. On the eve of departure you might even try to extend your stay a day longer, flying ten hours back to Asia and then ten more hours to Los Angeles without a layover, all for the chance to sleep in Sydney one more time.

But that would be too much awesomeness, something that even Qantas doesn’t allow. Alas, there are no available award seats on the following day’s flight to Shanghai, so you dutifully pack your bags while looking out at the [redacted] Opera House once more.

The next morning you leave the Park Hyatt. After using points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account to book the room for three nights, your total bill comes to a whopping $19. These charges consist of $14 from a glass of Ardbeg single-malt at the bar and $5 from a tip you left after drinking all those coffees and sparkling water the other day at the two-hour breakfast.

You ride the train back to the airport and work in the lounge before boarding Qantas Business Class to Pudong International Airport.

You have another overnight in Shanghai before heading back to LAX and finally home to Portland. It was good to come so far, and it will be good to go home. When the time comes, it will be good to leave again.

Such is the life of the Australian convict and the modern traveling author.

Who could ever complain? That’s right, only the ungrateful.

What’s to complain about? That’s right, nothing at all.

Thanks, Australia. I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Comments here.


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  • Andrew says:

    A nice description on a small part of the beauty Sydney has to offer! I an Australian who is currently living abroad (3 years in Japan and 4 months in England) and your post excites and scares me 😉

    Exciting because I will be returning to Australia next week for the first time in 2 years fro my best friends wedding and your recount of Sydney brought back many good memories of my time living there. Scary because I will be working remotely and will need to send some quite large files… I became so used to super fast internet in Japan and quite fast internet in London that I had forgotten about the lack of fast internet back home!

    Nevertheless I’m glad you enjoyed your holiday and if you ever get a chance try and explore the south east coastline down from Sydney. You will not be disappointed!

  • Benny says:

    Ahhhhh the Park Hyatt Sydney! Just stayed there two weeks ago thanks to my Hyatt Visa two night free and an additional 22K Chase points. We definitely didn’t want to leave.

    Thanks to an easy tip I learned, I asked for a status match last summer so I would be a Hyatt Diamond temporarily. I applied for the credit card so I would get two free nights in the suite as a Diamond member as opposed to a regular room. The Park Hyatt I learned doesn’t do suites, which is understandable. However they did give me a Opera House King Deluxe. From the balcony views of the bridge on the left, Opera house in the middle and to the right and massive cruise ships taking turns having one night stands at the port. One night at that time was a ridiculous $1500 a night.

    The service was wonderful. I’m only a Platinum now so didn’t get to enjoy free breakfast. Enjoyed running around Circular Quay in the mornings. The best part was checking out and saying my balance was $0.

  • Lynn Daue says:

    Chris, this post offered a much-needed break from the doom and gloom of a Mid-Atlantic February. Thanks so much – I needed the pick-me-up!

    It also makes me extremely curious about what’s actually in your next book. The ones I have are so entertaining that I can’t imagine anything less from your next masterpiece!

  • Peter says:

    That was a gorgeous bit of writing Chris. Australia. Someday(I really hate this word).

  • Scott says:

    Great Post! I didn’t know you were a Jedi.

  • Jakub says:

    Australia is awesome! I live here over 2 years and hopefully will never return permanently back to Europe. I just can’t imagine those brutal winters, not much sun, and “not so” cool people.

    Just my note: the internet was probably problem of the hotel, mine is more than fast 🙂 Of course you can’t count on public internet in cafes/restaurants here. That surprised me too when I got here.

    Cheers! 🙂

  • Annie Sorensen says:

    Beautiful piece of writing, Chris. Love it.

  • Mary says:

    Smiling all the way through this post, Chris. It’s a joy to read your writing.

  • Leonie Barton says:

    Loved the post Chris. Should the Jedi return, he should definitely attach extra time to venture the far north of Sydney………google up Pittwater or Akuna Bay or Cottage Point or Americas Bay, Coasters Retreat etc, then you will see where the non conformists of Sydney are hiding.

  • Grace says:

    I love that you love Sydney so much. I agree! I moved here from the States a few months ago and I’m never looking back.

  • Lora says:

    I like this “modern traveling author” venue. I could think of a lot of fun places to write from. Keep on!

  • Matt says:

    Nice post Chris! Sydney is a lovely city, Melbourne is pretty cool too.

  • Cath says:

    Lovely post! I had a few good laughs, especially at the “how are you going” thing. It just cracks us Aussies up when Americans answer that one literally.

  • Beatrice says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am currently in Australia for 6 months, and you explained what I’ve been trying to explain to everyone… How special this country is (yet how horrible the internet is).

  • Gary says:

    Delicious prose.
    Thank you, Chris!

  • Andrew Simms says:

    Beautiful writing, Chris. Makes me feel proud to be a Sydney-sider. Whenever I drive across the Cahill Expressway where it skirts around Circular Quay, I turn my head northwards to take in the Bridge & the Opera House in the one view.
    It was also my first glimpse of the harbour & its gobsmacking beauty, in a taxi from the airport 30 years ago, when I arrived here from Adelaide to live.
    It’s a view that reminds me of that quote from American Beauty:
    “Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it (the beauty in the world) all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude….”
    Thanks for reflecting some of that beauty back to me in your post.

  • Jen says:

    I loved this post – the way you talk about Australia and Australians is funny and I laughed reading of the convicts first impression of the Opera House and drinking sav blanc!

    I hope someday you can venture even further away from the rest of the world to my homeland of Tasmania, where the internet is even slower and the landscape even more beautiful!

  • Nish Kaushish says:

    How you goin mate!

    I have been in Sydney for the last six years and its beauty and lifestyle still amazes me. Your post elegantly tell the story here – nice people, bad internet (except for cafes) and absolutely incredible views.

    But for living here, I can do without decent internet connection.haha

  • Helena says:

    Hi Chris, thank you. This post bought a tear to my eye. I am born and raised in Sydney and each time I leave to go back overseas to reside, I have my own ritual. I go down to the harbour pretty much at the spot at hyatt. I look out at my harbour and wonder to myself, what the hell am I doing. It’s tough leaving and It does bring me to tears.

    So thank you and you can’t get coffee in New York, like those Sydney Lattes!
    I really enjoyed your writing. Yes I guess being a convict does have it’s advantages. I will always call Australia home.

  • Kyla Houbolt says:

    Ha! Loved the part about the internet. One of my most faithful commenters/correspondents is in Australia and frequently has trouble posting etc. We always thought it was her challenges with computer literacy but this throws an entirely different light on things.

    I had no idea!

    And I very much enjoyed the tour. Now if I go I will know a little about how to behave. 🙂

  • Clare J Fitzgerald says:

    What an eloquent piece of writing about Sydney.

    Us aussies are very lucky to live in such a beautiful country.

    I have to agree with Jakub regarding the internet. Connections in most homes are pretty fast, but for some reason the connections in hotel rooms here seem to be set to very slow (maybe to save money on downloads??).

    I love your note about the question asked immediately on meeting someone here in Australia “how ya going?”.

    You’re probably also now used to hearing the phrase that goes with our goodbye’s too – “See ya later”.

    I remember having a Japanese teacher in high school and when he first arrived in Oz, he met a colleague at the local store, they had a chat and then the person said “nice to see you – see ya later” and left for home.

    Not knowing any better, my beautifully well mannered Japanese teacher took those ‘see ya later’ words literally and waited around for 2 hours for the person to come back! He then finally gave up and went home, perplexed at the aussie lingo:)

  • Noah says:

    We were in Sydney in early January, and it really is a wonderful city. Looking forward to going back. I also ran around the Botanic Gardens, around the Opera House, up through the Rocks, and then across (and back) the Harbour Bridge. Probably the nicest urban run I’ve ever done…

  • Lindsey says:

    It’s always nice to hear your city described so beautifully. The Park Hyatt is a gem and you’re lucky you didn’t have to pay for it, ouch! We stayed there for our wedding night so it’s a special occasion sort of place…. unless you have some magic discount book! Heheh.
    Yes, it’s a long way to get here but worth the journey. If you haven’t already done so, next time try to catch a show in the Opera House. It’s kinda cool being inside the ‘sails.’

  • Marian Edmunds says:

    Chris, you made me feel homesick even though I am already (close to) home. The Internet will be nice methinks when it gets here.

  • Brandon says:

    I can’t wait to visit. Your trip sounds amazing as usual. I am going to figure out a way to live this kind of life. It’s slow going for now, but again and again your writing reminds me that it’s worth it.

  • Bob says:

    Wonderful stuff Chris. Encouraging that one can write excellent prose while experiencing the aftereffect of that Aussie wine.

  • Col Hancox says:

    We’ll make you an honorary Aussie if you come again! Thanks for the great post mate! If you haven’t picked up on the slang yet, yep I’m an Aussie!

  • Colleen says:

    Love your style and interpretation of aussie life. though don’t want you mean about the internet, here we all are interacting in real time! But then I am in North Queensland, a little further north 🙂

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for writing such an awesome piece on Sydney. It is great to hear about it from an outsider point of view. Although our Internet is slow we do happily bask in the knowledge that New Zealand has even worse Internet. The key is to always travel to places with either outrageously expensive Internet or super slow Internet and then it seems okay (and I teach educational technology so I think I should know).

  • Kate says:

    How ya going, mate? (Not where are you going’!)

    Please don’t tell everyone we are here, it’s quite nice being at the other end of the world. I’m in Melbourne, so even more so!

    I spent 2 years living in Mid-West America, and there are some pretty amazing places to travel to in the US also, such a varied continent!

  • James says:

    This piece was a lot of fun to read! Really a joy to read through during my lunch. Look forward to the next one!

  • tamara says:

    I can’t wait to visit OZ! And yes, Flat Whites are divine and so much better than your average latte. Just wanted to let you know, I sent you a package in the mail from Lincoln, NE. having no idea if Libby can collect your mail while your out and about, I wanted to you a heads up 🙂 Cheers!

  • Helena Mallett says:

    Wow! I’m in UK but as from next month both my sons will be living in Sydney. Can’t wait to go visit!

  • jami says:

    Now I am readying to lay my head on the pillow, as the fire in the gas-wood stove with rainy-snow spittering outside the window radiates warmth. And now in my drowse the flames in the stove turns into the bright warm days of Australia – where I imagine what the air smells like while jogging leisurely around the botanic garden, the depth of blue of the sky and water while standing next to the Opera house, and the sunrise. Gorgeous descriptions, Chris, that paint me into an Australian reality in my dreams. Good night!

  • Mitch says:

    Thanks for your wonderful description of Sydney. I grew up in Sydney but now live a day’s drive up the coast. I still love visiting Sydney (especially flying in from the North); the Botanical Gardens, the Manly Ferry, a concert in the Opera House. Geez, I might have to visit soon.

    By the way, Chris, `The $100 Startup’ gave me the kick I needed. My website is up and running even though it’s not perfect.

  • Chris Badgett says:

    Great travel writing Chris. I loved how you included a little history and tied it in to your experience.

  • nirmanie says:

    Loved the post!

    Ps, were u ever on Buddhist TV?? And have u ever visited Sri Lanka??

  • Kelly says:

    sounds like you had an amazing time – I really enjoyed reading this post.

  • Jacquie says:

    Jedi mind skills!!! BAHAHAHAHA! LOVE IT!

  • Mike says:

    Love it there! Great article.

    I learned that “G’day mate! How long you here for?” is really asking, “How long must I put up with you until you get back on that plane and I can return to what I was doing.”

    I also discovered that their way of doing business is just like their football: a player takes the ball on a mad solo suicidal dash towards the goal. Just as he is about to be overwhelmed, he passes the ball to another player, who does the same. All this is without pads or helmets.

  • Karen Runnels says:

    I want my life to look like yours!!

  • Gretchen says:

    I was an expat in Sydney for a year in 2007. Your post refreshed so many memories for me. What I wouldn’t give for a flat white. I must get back. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Todd Heslin says:

    Sad to see you go mate! I know the weather wasn’t the best for the last few days here but it seems like you made the best of it. If you haven’t yet already, it’s also fun to check out the inner suburbs of Sydney – lots of interesting and remarkable places! Perhaps next time.

  • CarolynB says:

    Sydney is magic, indeed.

    Sorry your internet performance was sub-par though not sure why that would be the case at the Park Hyatt! I lived in Sydney (inner Harbour area) from 1995-2010 and internet was fast and reliable so thought your comments were pretty condescending (just my impression). Did you expect kangaroos on Main St too?

    Cheers anyway and happy travels.

  • Charmaine says:

    Ok I am sold. My next trip is to Sydney. Nice post!

  • betsy burns says:

    A Letter from Sydney to brighten my perspectives and broaden my horizons…. A most welcome diversion form my Michigan routine. Thank you.

  • Susan from Melbourne says:

    Great description of Sydney, Chris. It is a spectacular city. The laidback Aussie way of life is something to be appreciated by world travellers and locals alike.

    I’m glad you had such a fantastic time in Sydney. Melbourne is beautiful too, although I remember it was cold and pouring with rain on the night of your meet-up here last year. I hope you have a better experience if you ever visit here again.

  • Alex says:

    I’m from Perth on the west coast of Australia, not quite as awesome as Sydney but better beaches (how is that possible, you’re thinking) great writing on a great city, pity about our Internet, we’re still a little backward down under

  • karen says:

    LOVE this post chris. especially the part about the [redacted] internet here in oz. you are kinder about it than i am. when i get back to canada i am always so amazed by the speed. and the access. and the lack of limits. (do you know our plans have limits to the amount you can download/upload? if you hit your limit you get your speed blocked. i love when that happens.) i do love sydney though – thanks for making me smile today. =)

  • Sue Kennedy says:

    I’m from an infinitesimal town in country Victoria, and it seems my satellite broadband is better than you Sydney hotel’s internet…I’ll try to never complain about it ever again. I’m glad you cleared up a few obscure points of history! I had no idea. PS, None of my forebears were convicts.

  • Paul Farrugia says:

    THAT ****** Opera house is amazing and that view! After 18 months of travel, I popped THE question on THAT bridge and she said….. yes. (Thankfully).

    Now a year later we are living the lives we want (thanks to you!). I write this from the beautiful Thai island of Ko Lanta.

    As the Aussies say: Cheers mate!

  • S Williams says:

    Your descriptions made me feel like I was there. Australia sounds awesome, especially the breakfast!

  • Samantha Nolan-Smith says:

    As a Sydney-sider with convict ancestors, I loved your post!
    And I agree with one of the other comments – the best stuff in Sydney is actually away from the CBD in the smaller surrounding suburbs – Darlinghurst, Paddington, Bondi (but you need a local to help you navigate your way away from the tourist strip to the best bits), Nielson Park (best Harbour beach and one of the most picturesque spots in the world), Newtown, Balmain. Thought you’d like a list for future visits 🙂

  • Samantha Nolan-Smith says:

    P.S. I think you may have to live here to get the good internet access. We don’t just give it to anyone who makes the effort to fly 100s of miles and hours on end to get here, you know! 🙂

  • Tim says:

    Syd better than Melbs?! Nope, Any city that worships league instead of AFL is somewhat backwards (and let’s not even talk about the quality of coffee).

    Btw, a Byron Bay visit may cause your brain to melt with relax and awesomeness next time. Worth a visit next time (I live nearby).

    Bit harsh re: internet, Chris. I am on Telstra 3G 12Mbps and with an LTE upgrade that will go to 20Mbps+. Never mind the fact I get Telstra pretty much anywhere except, oh, Bourke (Satellite,or so dad tells me). And with the NBN I’ll be on 25/5Mbps fixed LTE so that is pretty competitive with ADSL2+ (we live on 10 acres so are too far for xDSL and you can hardly blame that on poor internet, that’s just a reach issue). And yes I realise it’s tongue in cheek, but I’ve had to pay 40NZD/day for WiFi in New Zulland, bro, and a similar amount in North America, so….

    Anyway, I am off to wrestle crocodiles after I shoot the dingos on my car (a Model T) bonnet and then I’ll come home to throw another prawn on the barbie.

  • William says:

    This was one of my favorite posts. What a great lifestyle you’ve carved out for yourself

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