On the night we left Vancouver, I had fallen asleep before we finished taxiing from the gate to the runway, and woke with a jerk as the engines revved up. Later, wearing the eye mask, I slept some more, and so did Chris, so we weren't unbearably conscious of our surroundings for the whole of the 14½ hour flight time. A nice girl from Melbourne, nowadays studying in Vancouver, slept at the window beside us, and we had a chat to an air hostess strapped into her temporary seat during the approach and landing. We were in the same seats as for our Toronto-Beijing-Toronto flights earlier this year, the exit row over the wing, which allows for leg-stretching, worth the extra cost.
At around the half way point, between Hawaii and the International Date Line, I chose to watch the recently made film Woman in Gold, about the rightful Jewish owner of Klimt's famous painting, and how the Viennese authorities were reluctant to have the painting returned to her after it had been pillaged from her home by the Nazis. In the end she donated the painting to New York. It was a true story, movingly told. The other films I saw on the way were a French one: Flight of The Red Balloon (a subtle tribute to the original Red Balloon film of 1956) starring Juliette Binoche, and a Japanese film called Mother's Trees, that I'm still saddened by, because it was about a woman who had lost eight sons in the "patriotic" Japanese wars against China, again, a true story.
A good moment on these transoceanic flights is when daylight comes, and you realise you have made it through the night to the Other Side. We landed smoothly at SYD (the Melbourne girl very excited to be back home for the first time in four months, she said) and our plane-load of passengers burst into cheers and applause. I decided to declare my energy bars to the customs officials because they are full of seeds of unknown provenance, but the man let me take them through anyway. Beyond all the hurdles and barriers stood George with a balloon in his hand, saying WELCOME to AUSTRALIA. It has a koala and a kangaroo on it. Feeling remarkably well, I slipped into the ladies' washrooms to change out of my winter clothes into my summer ones, and before we left the airport George took a photo of us.
On our drive through the suburbs of Sydney we remarked upon the impression that there seems to be more Chinese influence than ever in this part of the world. The roadside posters all have Chinese translations. It was much the same in Vancouver, actually. Our little grandson speaks a fluent mixture of English and Mandarin now, fascinating to hear. When he chats to himself he seems to mix the languages, but when communicating with his mum he only speaks Mandarin. With his dad and with us he only speaks English, except for when he doesn't want to do something. He did not want to perform Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when asked, telling us very firmly: "Bu Twinkle Twinkle!"
Eddie and George took us out to the "small park" at the bottom of the hill they live on, next to the sports fields belonging to the Epping Boys' Grammar School; we played on the swings there and with a toy football on the grass. I never used to feel my stomach muscles when I went on a swing. I must be out of shape.
In the afternoon everyone except Chris and George had a siesta. When I had woken up from mine it had begun to rain, so George invited Chris and me to visit the Macquarie Shopping Centre, very busy with Christmas shoppers. In the evening, Eddie, more malleable than when we'd first arrived, gave us his repertoire of songs: Row, row, row your boat, Twinkle Twinkle (after all), Happy Birthday to you, and one that I didn't know, in Chinese. I'm not convinced he understands what the words of the songs mean, but he likes the way they sound and manages a good approximation. He is being very good about not touching the pile of Christmas presents under the tree, but takes the decorations off the branches to give them to us, from time to time. His favourite toy of the moment is Play-doh (sic).
Today, the rain has been continuous. George escaped from the fray at home by going to work, and while Eddie and Sha were still asleep, Chris and I started the day (awoken early by the raucous cries of the parrots outside our window) with a walk under the umbrellas to the Zig Zag café where I breakfasted on flat white coffee with toast and vegemite. Later in the morning we went out the shops again, Sha driving this time, to buy some more Play-doh.