“I have to go abroad. I don’t care if it’s for studying again or working. I will go to Japan one day” I said to my self. I don’t know why Japan, but that was the first country I thought about then.
I remember it was early in the morning. Our home was about 10 minutes walk from the beach. Like all other mornings, I used to go to the beach waiting for the sunrise. I could feel the soft sand in my feet while staring far away to the sea watching a small boat cruising slowly at the horizon. That thought just came to me suddenly. Like a revelation, it liberated me. Suddenly I had a purpose in life. I jumped up to the air and shouted, “I will go abroad!”
Sydney – Mid 1999
It was almost dark. “Where is the bus stop?” I murmured. I kept on looking out from the bus window, trying to remember where the bus stop was. I felt like the bus had reached St. Leonard area because then I could see the skyscrapers of Sydney CBD from the front window of the bus.
“Oh no, maybe I have passed the bus stop”. I jolted and pressed the bell. The bus driver pulled the brake, and the bus slowly came to a halt. I stepped down on to the sidewalk, watching the bus going away. Sydney winter air bit my face. It dawned on me that I was far away from home. I got a bit nervous that I might not be able to find my way back to my accommodation.
This was my first day in Sydney. Upon checking in at my temporary accommodation, I went to Macquarie University, with the help of a friend who picked me up at the airport. So it was all good from the accommodation to the university. Then I had to return on my own. Everything was new to me. I had been to several other cities in Indonesia but had never been abroad. Sydney was, of course, so different than all the cities back home.
I wouldn’t have been able to travel abroad if not because of the scholarship. There was no internet back then, mobile phones were still an alien to us. Calling home means calling to my mother’s office landline. Australia felt so far away back then. I couldn’t believe that I was there in Sydney. It was still like a dream.
I snapped out of my dream when the traffic light went red. I crossed the road. The first lesson that day was that I should not cross the road anywhere but at the traffic light. I still remember the bust stop until now located not far away from the St. Leonard station. I then started walking up the hill until I began recognising the road leading to my temporary accommodation. It was getting freezing when I got back home. I wrapped myself tightly under the blanket. This was my first night away from home. The first night of one and half year to go and I hope I could go home with a degree.
Sydney – October 2019
This was not the first time I came back to visit Sydney since I graduated in 2000. The first return was in early 2009, and I think around 2010. I also came back with my wife. I had a chance to visit the university, and everything was pretty much the same but a lot has changed now. I started my walk from the Epping boys highschool on the Vimeira road and kept on walking until I reached a familiar sight of a building I once called home.
I lived in three places during my time in Sydney. First was a unit at Lachlan Avenue, then here in this building on Vimeira road, and since my flatmate finished his study and returned to Indonesia, I then moved to Waterloo road.
I came to Sydney, thinking that I could go home with an internationally recognised qualification, but I was wrong. Yes, I finished my study, and I earned the degree that I dreamt of since my silly revelation one morning on that beach, but I went home so much wealthier than just a degree. I found friendship and learned about humility during my time here. Friends that I knew of from Sydney; my flatmate Wahyu and Hery are two among all others that I became close with. Hery now lives in Sydney and Wahyu in Medan Indonesia.
With Wahyu, I struggled together from the start of our time at the University. Like any other Indonesian students then, we both did cleaning service jobs to earn a bit of pocket money. We both got several part-time jobs of cleaning, of an office at Lane Cove area, a scary haunted kindergarten at Artarmon and the fancy Channel Nine TV station.
We did have fun but the work was heavy since we had to do these part-time jobs after our classes ended in the evening. For a master’s study program, this means, leaving for our work around 8 to 9 PM and tried to finish the work before midnight!
One time, Wahyu somehow was late to get out of his class. The lecture was a drag that evening. So we both were a bit late to get to work and had no choice but to finish the job at Channel Nine and then the Lane Cove office within a two-hour or two and half hour window. This was difficult, normally it took us around three to four hours to finish both jobs. By ten-thirty pm we finished our job at Channel Nine and then off we continued our work at Lane Cove office. When we got there, it was past eleven already. We both scrambled for our equipment and started cleaning.
Wahyu, as it used to be, cleaned at one area of the office and I did the other side of the office. It was quite a decent size of an office in Sydney. We finished our works in the office area and the last place, the toughest one, was toilets. We both were in different places, and suddenly the clock strike 12 AM! It means all building got locked down. Our key cards were no longer working. The security system of the office automatically cancelled or key cards by twelve midnight.
We were thrifty then, so our mobile phones didn’t have much credit on them! At that time Optus had this promo of free time calling for like 20 minutes in each call before it started charging. What we used to do was to use these Optus free-time call and disconnect just before it reached 20 minutes mark. Trying to make a call in such an emergency situation was, of course, difficult with the free time service.
“Where are you mate?”, I said to Wahyu when I could finally ring his mobile.
“I think our key cards are no longer working. I’m locked at the toilet. Where are you?”
“Me too, I got locked on the other wing of the office. Let me try to call the security” Wahyu replied.
I forgot how we managed to get out in the end. I think Wahyu was able to call the emergency number to reach the security, or maybe they noticed from the security camera that we got locked inside the building. Then someone came and opened the door for both of us.
After we got rescued, we sat down at the kitchen drinking free milk and milo, eating some biscuits from the fridge laughing out loud of our experience, but it was something we could never forget.
I continued working at the Lance Cove office after Wahyu went home, but it wasn’t as fun anymore.
Wahyu is now a senior economic lecturer of the state university, has two great kids and still lives in Medan. We always find a way to contact each other or meet whenever he visits Jakarta, and this memory still put a laugh on our faces each time.
Back in our country, I know that people look down on those who do the cleaning service job. Doing this work for almost a year there, I think, gave me a lasting feeling and sense of humility. For the least, I never look down anymore to this kind of work. I knew how it felt to clean the office, to carry the bulky vacuum cleaner on my back, and wipe dirty toilets. It never failed to remind me every time I was in our office public restroom that I once did this job too.
When you are sad about something or when you go through difficult moments in life, people kept on saying to you, “I can understand your situation, I know how you feel about it”. I think until you actually experience it, doing it, seeing it from a similar situation, only then you could really understand how it feels. If not, those words are mostly just lip service.
Sydney would always have a special place in my heart not only because this city gave me hope for my future, but also it gave a precious gift of friendship and extraordinary experience of learning about humility.