Friday, August 30, 2013

The Day I Ran Away from A Waiter

I was in Sydney, Australia, when I ran away from a waiter at a restaurant.

Early Monday morning I had started my travels of leaving Papua New Guinea and ultimately ending up in Sydney, Australia, where I had a 24-hour layover before my next flight on Tuesday night. So, instead of wasting all those hours in the airport, I had a lovely night’s sleep at a guesthouse run by my Wycliffe Korea colleagues (where I slept on a REAL MATTRESS!! It was glorious!!!), and on Tuesday morning headed down to train station to take me to the famous Sydney Harbor.

It was on the train that I first encountered the Smartphone Phenomenon: every man, woman, and child over the age of 14 was staring transfixed at a little shiny screen glued to his or her left hand, a reverie which would occasionally be broken as he or she swiped an index finger across the surface or chortled while readjusting an earpiece. I felt like I was sitting in a giant elevator. Never have I seen so many people crammed into such a small space and yet so entirely unaware of their neighbors!

After I left the Smartphone Zombies, I needed to cross the road to get to the Harbor, and so joined a group of business people standing at the edge of the street. And kept standing. And standing. Soon I was annoyed. Why are they all waiting? I thought. There were lots of chances for them to cross—why are they still standing there, blocking my path? Let’s go!

And then, suddenly, the light changed, the crosswalk flashed permission, and the whole herd crossed the street. Oops. I had forgotten about crosswalks and Western rules for pedestrians.

Eventually, I found my way to the water, where I spent the rest of the morning on a boat, watching humpback whales cavorting about just beyond the Harbor (it was the time of their migration). It was pretty awesome, albeit extremely chilly, especially for a girl just arrived from the equator (despite my wearing nearly every piece of clothing that I had packed!)

 And so, when I finally docked back at Circular Quay, I was not only hungry, but so cold my teeth were chattering—I am going to get hypothermia if I sit in one of the outdoor restaurants, I decided. “Please, sir,” I asked the information booth guy, “could you tell me where I might find a place to eat indoors?”

“Sure!” He gave me directions down a street and up some stairs. I thanked him and set off merrily, eagerly climbing those steps, opening the door...and staring with horror and not a little terror as I realized the oblivious information guy sent me to a culture-shocked missionary’s worst nightmare: a food court.

Flashing signs! Neon lights! Shouting cashiers, crying children, rattling bags, clacking heels! Red, orange, green! Chinese, Italian, Subs, Pizza! Rushing business people! Briefcases! Cash! Credit Cards! Out of my way! Zillions of choices! Now! Now! Now!

AHHHHHHH! Head pounding, hands shaking, I spun for the nearest door and fled. I was less than 24 hours out of Papua New Guinea, a third-world country where my only fast food option is the town’s lone kai bar where I could get a hunk of chicken and chips (aka French fries) and there was no way I could survive a food court. (Remember the grocery store post from last year?)

Nevertheless, I was still hungry. And so, I started roaming up and down the streets of Sydney looking for sustenance. But, since most of the restaurants had outdoor seating near their entrances, every time I approached a possibility, an eager waiter swooped on top of me and shoved a menu in my hands, delighted with the chance of ensnaring a new customer. Come here! Eat here! Try this! 

AHHH! Unable to handle the pressure, I soon found myself running to the opposite side of the street every time one of those hapless waiters approached. Finally, stressed, exhausted, starving, cold, and close to tears, I finally encountered a restaurant that had no scary waiters waiting to attack, and dove inside. I then had to navigate the five menus they dumped in my lap (I limited myself to the specials...only three choices), convince them that I really did want apple juice to go with my Italian meal (apple juice! such a luxury), and tried to remember how to use my credit card.

But, I survived, warmed up, calmed down, and went on to enjoy the rest of the afternoon wandering through historic shops, visiting a contemporary art museum, watching the sun set at the wharf, and finally trekking back to the airport to continue on my 48-hour Tuesday as I flew to Hawaii (landing in Hawaii before I had left Sydney, thanks to the International Dateline).

But never will I forget the time that I ran away from a waiter.