On her first trip outside of China, AustCham Beijing’s Olivia Li, shares her first impressions of Australia with Sophie Loras.
Membership & Public Affairs Officer, AustCham Beijing
Drinking tap water, walking on grass and wearing a seatbelt… these were just some of the highlights for Beijing native, Olivia Li on her first visit to Australia, and first trip outside of China.
Having worked at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Beijing for more than four years, the 27-year-old was more than familiar with Australians, but not Australia. It had been a long-life dream to visit the Land Down Under and cuddle a koala bear.
Taking advantage of a business opportunity to travel to Australia, Olivia was able to add some leisure time to the trip, visiting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane over the Christmas and New Year period.
The first part of her trip began in Melbourne just days before Christmas. In the Garden
State, Olivia enjoyed Christmas Eve on the beach, meeting lifesavers and appreciating the unique “hot Christmas” Australia could offer. She attended a Salvation Army Christmas Day service and then sat down to a Christmas Day lunch with the family of former AustCham colleague Kate Hayes.
*Pictured right: Christmas Eve in Melbourne, Olivia and her new lifesaving friend. (Courtesy Olivia Li)
Highlights in Melbourne included Captain Cook’s Cottage at the Botanic Gardens, the coffee and the trams.
“I loved just sitting on the trams and looking out the window at all the small streets and houses.”
On Boxing Day, she set off for Canberra, then taking an early bus the following day to the New South Wales Coast. She was met at Batemans Bay by Beijing friend Ren Cronan-Dixon to enjoy several days at the tiny beachside town of Mollymook.
After several hours travelling through farmland, the first appearance of the ocean left an impression Olivia later described to her parents in Beijing as being the colour of mouth freshener.
“The sea was so clear and blue!” She says.
Another surprise was in store. Later that evening, Olivia was called out to the balcony, where not far out to sea, dolphins played in the waves.
“I never imagined seeing dolphins that way – on your balcony with a glass of wine and a barbeque,” says Olivia of the moment.
Although Olivia was visiting the coast during peak season, she was overwhelmed at how quiet it was.
“They kept telling me it was a busy time of the year, but you could just sit in the sitting room and hear the waves.”
Mollymook presented a particularly surreal moment for Olivia one night, as she sat in the beach house living room watching the ABC’s Beijing correspondent, Stephen McDonnell, reporting from the Forbidden City in his down parka, all the time the waves lapping quietly on the sand just metres away outside from where Olivia sat.
Other highlights at Mollymook included Olivia’s first experience swimming in the sea, visiting a local farm to buy organic honey and peaches straight off the trees and taking pictures of the Pacific Highway without any cars.
In Sydney, Olivia again stayed with friends while another former colleague from the Chamber spent a day driving her around Sydney to take in the Sydney Harbour, the Opera House and the beaches. She also braved crowds of more than 20,000 people to watch the city’s renowned New Year’s Eve fireworks display from Mrs Macquaries Point. This included an orderly three-hour queue to enter the park and another 40 minutes to use the public toilets.
“I found a good spot, where I could see the whole bridge, so I pulled out my picnic rug and enjoyed the view,” she says.
“Sydney really is beautiful – salty air, beautiful beaches and very aggressive seagulls which sat on my head to steal my chip!”
In Brisbane, a highlight for Olivia was visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – home to more than 130 koalas. Here she hand-fed kangaroos and familiarized herself with other iconic Australian wildlife including Tasmanian devils, wombats, kookaburras, emus, lorikeets and platypus. It was here that she finally enjoyed the moment she had most been waiting for – cuddling her koala.
*Pictured left: Olivia at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Queensland. (Courtesy Olivia Li)
Was Australia ever a challenging place to visit? No, says Olivia.
“After spending New Year’s Eve with 20,000 New Year’s Eve revellers, nothing feels like a challenge anymore.”
In hindsight, Olivia still has a laugh remembering some of the lasting impressions of Australia – from the few shops still open after 5pm carrying signs which read: “Yes – we ARE open,” to the national obsession with barbecues.
“There were so many barbeques in Australia,” says Olivia. “In Australia, at dinner time, all you could smell everywhere, were the barbeques!”
Other observations included the flora and fauna of Australia, which varied everywhere she went.
“The gardens and plants were all gorgeous and really different.”
“If I was to return to Australia to study, I wouldn’t do accounting or finance, I’d want to study botany,” says Olivia
“Australia is just like a big garden.” ■
Olivia booked some of her travel online. This included buses and taxis to and from airports.
“All the travel websites in Australia were really good and easy to use,” says Olivia.
“There was a lot of information and I didn’t feel I needed to worry. People were really friendly and relaxed and I would randomly talk to people. ”
Olivia flew with Qantas via Shanghai and Sydney on the way out and from Melbourne via Hong Kong for the return trip to Beijing.
On her next trip to Australia, Olivia plans to visit Uluru and the Red Centre and take the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney.