The other night, I dreamed of Sydney. Not the house in the suburbs, or the high-rise office, or the long bus ride in between. I dreamed about the Sydney of postcards and bayside soaps. Where the ocean is a perfect reflection of a cloudless sky and the sands of the beach fade out to white.
It’s a weekday, I’m blissfully unemployed, and I take two beautiful girlfriends to brunch somewhere famous. It has a silly name that makes no sense, but it’s okay because ducks can be blue in a dream.
It’s small, cramped, and busy and the staff are cool and inattentive like we’re invisible. And maybe we are, it is a dream after all. Maybe our breakfast will just appear on our table like magic.
But it appears that my imagination does not extend to magic, not even my dreams, so we order like in real life and wait a really, really long time for our food, like you would in real life, in real Sydney, at a real hipster cafe.
The food is, of course, vivid and specific.
One slice of toasted sourdough, one roasted tomato, two poached eggs, one small salmon steak, wilted spinach, a small pot of hollandaise sauce and several fresh basil leaves.
One slice of toasted sourdough, one roasted tomato, two poached eggs, half an avocado sliced and fanned out, one cherry tomato, halved, a small pot of hollandaise sauce, some red onion and several fresh basil leaves.
One slice of toasted sourdough, one roasted tomato, baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans and several fresh basil leaves.
It’s strange that I would dream up food so dull – especially at a highly anticipated meal at one of the most popular brunch spots in Sydney. The large plates and sparse presentation make each item look cold and lonely on the plate, and the flavours are entirely plain and ordinary. Anyone can toast a piece of bread. Anyone can roast a tomato. Anyone can rip some leaves off a basil plant. Anyone can slice an avocado. Anyone can (with some care) poach an egg. Hollandaise sauce is something to be poured over a plate with no concern for calories, not served “on the side” in a pathetic quantity that even Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of.
In real life, I would politely pay the bill and silently vow never to eat at this place again. But this is a dream, and in dreams you can do things without fear or consequence, so I flip the table and yell “I WOULD RATHER EAT A MCMUFFIN!” and teleport to North Bondi.
We end up at a place called PORCH and order our second coffees for the morning.
This tiny little cafe has more pretty white people than I’ve seen for over a year.
My friend Minju is there, so I must really miss her. But all she does is chat with her fiance on her phone, so she obviously doesn’t miss me at all. But then I realize that what I’ve missed more than anything is this:
Aussie coffee. Coffee in Korea may meet my daily caffeine needs, but it is so soulless. You, however, are full of heart. It’s not just a matter of beans or milk or technique, it’s a matter of love. It’s how you soak up the Aussie sun that keeps you warm on the outdoor table. It’s how you carry the care and passion of the barista who made you; a bearded priest of a coffee-worshiping faith. It’s how you’re presented in playful ceramic mugs, made to resemble paper cups, that boast the name of the local group of blenders and roasters from which you were born. I wish I was there with you today and I’m sorry that I can’t be. *weeps*
The dream goes on and we’re hungry again. We stop at a colorful beachside bar that sells food in buckets.
I see more bare female skin than I have in over a year. All shapes, ages, and sizes in bikinis and sarongs. This is the Straya I love.
I swear this isn’t a drug-induced hallucination but the bar where we order is crazy psychedelic. One-eyed aliens, pickled brains, and neon tigers. C’mon everybody lets all be friends and dance together until the end.
There are floor to ceiling windows that curve around the whole restaurant so that all you can see is beach.
We order a bucket of prawns, that turns out to be half-full of ice, but it’s okay because I have a beer in my hand, a good mate by my side, and everywhere I look, all I see colour and sun and sea and sky.
Also, fries. Thick-cut, crunchy fries. And fries make everything okay.
I feel so happy to be home but sad to know that I can’t stay much longer. I look to my right and see a message tattooed on the wood panel beside me.
And I think, “Yes, you will always be.”