Ryan Chartrand

In a few minutes, I will be welcoming the New Year with more than a million other people. No one here is wearing goofy 2007 sunglasses or waiting for a giant disco ball to drop.

This is Sydney, Australia – people are wearing bikinis or T-shirts and shorts, sipping on a bottle of Tooheys (Foster’s isn’t Australian for beer). They are patiently waiting to see what the large flashing question mark on the Harbour Bridge will reveal in the next few minutes.

I still cannot comprehend that I am in one of the first cities to celebrate 2007. Last year, I remember watching Sydney’s fireworks display on my 19-inch TV, never imagining that I would see it live the following year.

For being in such a large crowd of people, it is surprisingly not too claustrophobic. Although it was a challenge to find a spot to sit down (especially when my friends and I arrived in Milson’s Point at 10 p.m. rather than 10 a.m. like we should have), we are sitting semi-comfortably across from the now fluorescent Sydney Opera House.

Looking at the sea of people around me, I am reminded that Australia isn’t the stereotypical backwards-Outback country as portrayed in “The Simpsons” famous boot-in-the-arse episode. For being isolated from most continents, the country, especially Sydney, manages to attract people from every nationality.

I suppose the great distance separating Australia from the rest of the world instills an image that Australia is a deserted island paradise. Next to me are a few trigger-happy Japanese tourists flashing peace signs and big smiles, a Slavic speaking family passing around a bottle of Stolichnaya and a pack of annoying Poms (British folk) blowing loudly on horns.

In the six months I’ve lived here, meeting a native Australian has been rare; however, foreigners greatly influence this country and in a good way. The oddball fusion of Thai, Lebanese, Turkish, Indian and Indonesian cuisine save the population from subsisting on bland Australian meat pies and tomato sauce alone. (My favorite food fusion has to be Greek Yum Cha.)

And despite being in the Southern Hemisphere, two Northern Hemisphere countries – the United Kingdom and the United States – have a distinct presence. Sydney’s architecture reminds me a lot of London while its population looks like it just stepped out of Laguna Beach.

The tabloid frenzy over where Paris Hilton and several wives of British footballers are partying can also attest to this fact. The city’s desire to absorb everything from anywhere gives Sydney its unique identity.

On the bridge numbers begin to appear queuing me and the million others to begin the countdown.

In unison, we belt out 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…Happy New Year! My friends and I ecstatically begin to hug and kiss each other and we even let the annoying Poms join our love fest.

The city is alive from its split second slumber. The 15-minute fireworks display is absolutely amazing. The Poms are still tooting their horns and are spilling what I am sure is not Sprite near my new clothes, but I am too awestruck to care. Fireworks are alternating from skyscrapers, barges in the water and, of course, the Harbour Bridge itself.

At the end of the show, the question mark on the bridge transforms into a red coat hanger with a large diamond in the middle of it. It is quirky and a bit confusing, but that is Sydney for ya mate.

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