I’m uptight, claustrophobic, slightly paranoid and and afraid of the dark, not to mention clowns and the opening of champagne bottles. Hell, there’s a long list of things I fear, don’t like or try to avoid. But I’ve let a lot of what worries me slide ever since I visited Australia.

Last month, my partner and I finally made it down to Sydney to visit with friends and to see if all the great things we heard about the city were true. It was our first time Down Under and we were both looking forward to having a piss out of a tinnie followed by a visit to the dunny.

We had a very early morning layover in Cairns because we couldn’t book a direct flight from Tokyo using our miles. While we killed time in the airport terminal waiting for our connecting flight to Sydney, my partner read Down Under, a travelogue by Bill Bryson, as I stared out at the lush hills that descended into the Pacific and wondered if there were any dangerous snakes lurking beneath the trees.

“Hey, listen to this, ” my partner said. “Did you know that there is a jellyfish out there called the Box jellyfish that has one of the most venomous stings known to man? Apparently, the sting is so excruciatingly painful, you can die of a heart attack.”

Thanks for telling me! Jesus, I guess I can take swimming in North Australia off my list of things to do before I die. And me being me, I now have absolutely no desire to go swimming in South Australia either. I don’t want to be that first poor son of a bitch who dies a horrible death after being stung while swimming off the coast of Melbourne. You never know. Global warming and all. I just saw An Inconvenient Truth for the first time last night. Those box jellyfish are bound to migrate farther south any day now.

But I digress.

One of the first things I noticed in Sydney was the devil may care attitude of the people I met. From the scary blokes at customs who whistled at people to signal them that it was there turn at the inspection table to the cab driver who pulled over to consult his map because he didn’t know how to get to our friend’s house, there was a playful “no worries” attitude that prevented me from saying, “Don’t whistle at me, I’m not a dog.” or “The meter is running! You call yourself a cab driver!?” I had a feeling that if I had become the ugly version of me, the people down under would just look at me and shake their heads as if to say, “get a grip.”

So I let it go. All that frustration of living in Tokyo. All my worries about the future and where we were going to move next. All those little things that make me feel guilty or enraged, anxious or depressed. My fear of not returning to New York until I’m over 40. All of it. And I let myself become infected with the no worries culture.

Sydney is the perfect mix of Southern California and New York. It’s laid-back and balmy but also urban and sophisticated. Sydney Harbor is truly spectacular, an awesome marriage of man and nature. This is a city that knows how to live not just near the water but in it. Unlike Tokyo where the city turns its head away from the bay, Sydney embraces its harbor. Its waterfront is residential and commercial, not industrial and drab.

The residents of this city, Sydneysiders, are a friendly, easy-going, multi-cultural mix of immigrants and natives. It’s as if taking a morning chill pill were mandatory. Sure, people may go to the pub, get drunk and fight once in a while, but they rarely kill each other. What’s to be mad at, really? A large middle class, beaches everywhere, an imperfect but manageable public transportation system, pedestrian friendly roads and sidewalks, eclectic neighborhoods and that magnificent harbor. Only a nong or fruit loop would have a problem with Sydney.

I returned to Japan and shortly there after, the states, armed with my new no worries state of mind. Lost my raincoat at LAX? No worries! Parents arguing again and again? No worries! Fiesta event in San Antonio a bit of a lard-infused, brown trash disaster? No worries! Eight hour car ride down to Virginia? No worries! Getting bit by weird bugs and thinking I might have the West Nile Virus? No wuckin’ furries, mate! Having to pay extra for my upgrade at JFK because American Airlines enjoys messing with me? I said, no wuckin’ furries! Arriving back in Tokyo and ordering something I can’t eat because (surprise!) there are fish flakes waving sickeningly on top of my grilled mushroom? I said no goddamn wuckin’ furries mate! Realizing you are who you are, but can learn how to be a calmer person without changing your mantra completely? No worries?

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