30 June 2015


Thinking about what to write for this post has made me realise I've been really quite lucky to have lived in some great neighbourhoods over the years. (It's also made me a bit nostalgic and wistful...damn those itchy feet of mine.) They've all been unique in some way, but there's also a few defining commonalities regardless of city or country - greenery, walking distance to a village (somewhere to eat, somewhere to shop), and friendliness in shared spaces. 

I grew up in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne's east - not the inner east like South Yarra, or the outer east like Ringwood or Ivanhoe, but the mid-east, Kew. It was (and still is) suburban Melbourne at its finest. It was a pretty nice place to grow up, actually. The streets were blessed with long established oak trees, the parks were plentiful (perfect for tree climbing and dog walking and finding some space of your own-ing), the trams frequent-ish and the schools were not too bad at all. 

And it had a sense of community. In primary school the neighbourhood kids walked together most mornings, and in high school we caught the tram together. We had a street party, at least once. And I remember epic water fights in the heat of Melbourne's long dry summers, running in and out of neighbour's gardens to refill our various watery weapons. We knew our street, our neighbourhood. It felt safe, it felt like ours. My parents still live in the same street, and they still know their neighbours. A dying art they say, this neighbour thing. 

After a few moves around Melbourne's mid-east, the next stop for me was Balmain, Sydney. I still marvel at my luck, picking Balmain out of all the places to pick when I moved to Sydney. It's a suburb full of dogs and pubs, with winding streets that lead you on to patches of green and surprising harbour views. Being a peninsula it's a bit isolated, a bit cut off from the rest of Sydney, but there's a gorgeous main street with restaurants and cafes and cute little shops so come the weekend you really don't need the rest of Sydney. 

Balmain was pretty great, although I don't remember anyone ever saying 'hello' to me in the street. Maybe because it's a bit of a destination suburb, there's a lot of day trippers. You can't tell who is your neighbour and who isn't. Or maybe I just wasn't feeling so friendly around that time. Maybe. 

Then the husband and I moved to Potts Point for a year. We lived in an apartment, which had harbour views from the tiny balcony right at the top, if you stood on your tippy toes and angled your head the right way. Potts Point is just a short walk from the city (a little longer if you take a detour past the sparkling waters of Woolloomoloo and the Gallery and the gardens, and why wouldn't you?) but it feels like it's one perfectly contained city in itself. It's unusual as it's one of the few high density suburbs in Sydney, and the high density living happens mostly in gorgeous deco apartment buildings (swoon). 

You'd think living a little on top of each other would lead to niggles and tension, but in our experience it lead to thought and consideration and small acts of kindness. I'd move back there in a heart beat. 

Then we headed overseas and drove our relocation consultants to distraction searching for the right place to live. They'd show us a shiny new apartment with all the mod cons in a 'great expat area', and we'd say 'Hmmmm, it's nice but can we go for a stroll and get some dinner, or groceries?". Because for us where we lived was just as important, possibly more important, than what the actual place was like. We'd happily sacrifice space and newness if it meant we'd be in walking distance of a shop or a cafe or a bar. Which, apparently, in Hong Kong at least, is not a typical consideration for expats and relocation consultants. 

The thought of having to jump in a cab every time I needed some milk filled me with dread, so we pressed on, and - after some frustration and a few tears (mainly mine) - ended up in the most perfect spot. Our apartment was a short but steep fifteen minute walk into Central yet it was surrounded by lush masses of greenery. And flamingos, and monkeys. You see, our apartment was perched just above the zoo. At night we would wander down the street for a martini and a steak and then head home, normally in a taxi - the hill really was steep! Come morning we'd awake to the sound of howler monkeys and red-crowned cranes in the gardens below. Pretty freaking awesome. 

Next was Seoul, and another great neighbourhood - Hoehyundong - which you can read about here and here. It was one of those crumbling old areas, a rabbit warren of shacks and concrete and incredibly slightly dodgy looking massage shops. It was just starting to be redeveloped, hence our shiny new skyscraper of an apartment building. On one side we had Namsan, on the other was Myeongdong and the sprawling Namdaemun market. It was a great spot to spend three and a bit years. 

(Slight tangent - after all our moves I've come to the conclusion that it takes a minimum of twelve months to start to get to know a place, to start to feel like you belong to a place. What do you think of that timeline?)

And then we moved back to Sydney, and we bought a house in Paddington. Paddington is a great suburb filled with all the things we love - cafes and restaurants and pubs and parks and trees and dogs. There's a little community garden at one end of our street, and an excellent butcher up on Oxford Street who happily shares cooking tips, and not too far away is Centennial Park where a whole herd of dachshunds meet up once a month. I can walk into the city if I fancy, and on a warm sunny day we can drive to the beach in fifteen minutes or so. 

We've got a rental on one side, so our neighbours change fairly frequently. But on the other side we have a neighbour who grows exotic orchids under shade cloth and listens to opera, loudly, on a Sunday morning. And almost everyone stops in the street to pat Ferdi on our morning walks, which makes him ridiculously happy.

We're close to the boy's other house, and to their school. We have three locals within walking distance - places we're happy to go when we want a break from cooking, places where the staff say hi. Since leaving Melbourne's east I'm used to moving, often, but I think I'll be happy to settle in this neighbourhood for a little while longer.

The My... posts are a way to get me writing more throughout 2015. There'll be one a month, each with a different My... prompt. You can play along as well, whenever and wherever you want. This month's prompt (June) is My Neighbourhood. Next month's prompt (July) is My Wardrobe. Interpret each prompt however you like - a story or a jumble of thoughts, fact or fiction, personal or not. Don't feel too constrained by the months either, if you like a prompt then have a go. And make sure to let me know if you do join in!

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