Almost eight years ago I went to live in Korea. Arriving by bus into the city of Daegu (where the recent Athletics World Championships were held) following a flight into Seoul, the very first person I met was a cheesy, wholesome-looking American. He shared the same agent as me and had been asked to meet me from the bus station. The same person met me from Sydney airport yesterday morning, following an 8-hour flight from Singapore, which followed a 5-hour train from Glasgow to London, a 13-hour flight from London to Singapore, then a 6-hour wait in Singapore airport.
That person is Handsome Matt, and he is neither wholesome or American (he can still be a little cheesy though). Despite my misjudged first impression of him all these years ago, we became great friends for the duration of our time in Korea and even though we've been living on opposite sides of the world since then, have always kept in touch. And he was the reason that Sydney is my very first stop in my Wonder tour: the original travel plans had Matt as my "travel-sidekick" and so Sydney seemed a logical place to kick off.
But plans change and Matt decided not to pursue years of foreign travel and I met his excuse for bowing out of them yesterday also, in the form of his girlfriend, Emma, and a one-month-old baby called Xavier (named, I am reliably informed, after the X-men leader played by Jean-Luc Picard in the Hollywood films). Matt is in the midst of some considerable changes in his life, as the appearance of a newborn baby would hint at, and both him and Emma have quit their jobs and in less than a week move to Melbourne.
Hence I am very glad to have caught him just before he leaves. Generously, they have let me stay at their apartment in Bondi - which I must say is very much neater than it was two years ago when I last visited Matt (Emma admits to putting a little order into Matt's existence). And unlike my last visit, which saw Matt busy with work, in an unhappy relationship and recovering from a bout of whooping cough, this time Matt has free time, is settled and is as fit and handsome as ever, and so we have the next week at leisure to regale old stories, tell annoying in-jokes no-one else understands and recapture these fleeting traces of youth that we try and cling onto.
This was mainly in the form of drinking yesterday, as I had the frightening experience of seeing how much beer in Bondi costs. A few beers later, I stopped caring so much. We had a late lunch, then drinks at a couple of bars overlooking the famous beach, and then back at Matt's for dinner. Xavier, so far, has been an extremely peaceable baby, offering not much more than a few grunts or moans before lapsing back into sleep. Emma is lovely, and offers a good balance to Matt, who needs a stabilising influence in his life lest he turn back to the tons of self-improvement books he went through back when we in Korea.
So more catching up with Matt over the next few days, and on Sunday he leaves Sydney to go to Melbourne, and we have a two-day roadtrip together planned.
Of course, in terms of Wonders, the reason I'm here is the Sydney Opera House, and I was allowed a brief preview yesterday. When Matt picked me up from the airport, he proceeded to get confused a take a series of wrong roads that eventually led to him going exactly the wrong way - and suddenly we were passing the Opera House and going over Sydney's magnificent Harbour Bridge. I've visited Sydney Opera House before, but like the recent visit to Barcelona and the first stolen glimpse of the Sagrada Familia, there is a "wow" factor when it unexpectedly appears in sight. Whenever in sight, it compels the eye, and makes for a wonderful vista with the contrasting brute steel and size of the Harbour Bridge.
But there will be much more on the Opera House over the next week, when I will pay a full visit, and enjoy a piano recital by Russian classical pianist, Evgeny Kissin.