The most cultured I felt in my five weeks of traveling in Australia was waiting on a homeless woman in the Central Business District of Brisbane as she typed on a rather modern-looking typewriter a poem that I gave her $15 for.
It took her all of seven minutes to write a bit on distance, my word of choice.
“The space in between
means what you want it to mean
There is you, there is me,
and the immeasurable earth,
the ancient dirt, that stretches
all the way to our edges-………..”
There was much to love about Brisbane. Its most-relaxed and unhurried of an ambience that reminded me of the small-town gait of my home town of Shillong in Northeast India.
A ferry ride in the evening was the most touristy I felt in my entire time down under. The trip was a mix of visiting friends, some backpacking, and a couple of work-related meetings. The water helped render the temperature comfortable enough for a leisurely ride down the river, a relief from the high levels of humidity that I had grown used to and the scorching heat that I should have worn sunscreen for.
A sweet lady at a tourist information office suggested the ferry and assured me that it was the quickest way of reaching my destination. A journey that a bus ride would have taken 22 minutes. But it wasn’t, and it caused me my rare instance of tardiness which irked Eloise, a good friend and sometimes-reader-of-my-first-drafts, whose punctuality, I discovered on the trip, was impressive.
I landed in Brisbane International Airport assumed it would be bigger. The Immigration Officer did not ask a single question, and hurriedly stamped on my passport, which is different from the barrage of questions that one encounters at other airports. No sooner had I worn this huge smile on my jet-lagged face at the quickness of it all than I was greeted by custom authorities with the strictest glares and long lines of tourists, most of whom were Asian.
Two or three rounds of checking one’s belongings to ensure that no animal and food products of any kind from foreign countries found their way into the country. Australia has sea and animal life, much of which would be destroyed if contaminated with incompatible sea and animal life. I heard that Australian shrimp in Queensland was destroyed because of an intrusion by Indonesian shrimp, shrimp of a lesser quality.
In Melbourne, I crashed on the couch of an old friend from school, Jarvis, who had this amazing ability to put his fist in his mouth. Jarvis and I were part of an extended group of friends who found many of the same things funny, and it delighted the both of us that we still did after a decade-and-a-half. It disappointed me that he could no longer stuff his fist in his mouth.
“Melbourne is the city I’d live in,” I said to Andrea, five-and-a-half hours behind in her corporate law cubicle in Mumbai, who asked if I could see myself living in Australia. “It has an artistic and this quasi-literary vibe that I am in love with.”
While its cafes were an improvement on the ones in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, they closed too early (at 4 in the afternoon), and their Wi-Fi was just as awful, a complaint that I voiced to anyone who seemed eager to listen.
“It’s actually an election issue,” Kyle from New York messaged me back. “The less-than-stellar Wi-Fi connection in Australia is something that politicians there debate about.”
“Dude, cafes in New Delhi and even Shillong have much better Wi-Fi,” I complained.
Melbourne is Australia’s second biggest city, and the vibe, though it was quicker than Brisbane’s felt just as laidback.
“Is all of Australia laidback?” I asked Jarvis over a couple of rounds of slow beer in a neighbourhood that felt the definition of slow. The lone bartender was annoyed that we took our time in choosing the beer. It was quarter to five and every shop and office was closed, with the exception of a Vietnamese takeaway that had neither spring-rolls nor pho.
Jarvis’s neighbourhood of mostly young people and hipsters was a place called Fitzroy, and walls had graffiti on them.
As big and spread-out as Melbourne seems, I walked almost everywhere. Without so much as a plan, I walked to Melbourne Park and spent an entire day at the Australian Open.
For $45, the Open-Court tickets were a bargain.
“You can enter all the open courts, mate,” a cheerful seller of said ticket said loudly.
“Yes, mate, isn’t that amazing, so much amazing tennis and such a bargain, mate,”
“It is, thanks,” I said.
“No worries, mate,” he said.
My folks and I think that it is pretty cool that my first ever live tennis match just happened to be at the Australian Open. Not bad for a kid from Lower Mawprem, I murmured to myself as I watched CzechTomas Berdych beat American Ryan Harrison. I nipped in and out of the courts, getting drunk on beer and hotdog that were too expensive, a mixed doubles match here, a women’s singles there. Sunburnt and drunk, from the bluest skies I’d ever seen and the drinking that burnt a hole in not very-deep pockets, I walked back home surrounded by a skyline that was just the right kind of imposing, on streets that had more runners, walkers, joggers, and cyclists on them than vehicles.
While I found at least two things wrong with every café I walked into, the coffee was the best I’d ever had. Whether I was drinking my $2 cups from the neighbourhood 7-Eleven, or a latte at an ironically named No-Name Lane where the hipster from Scandinavia with his quintessential hipster beard and sleeve tattoos spent quality time and effort to hand you your perfect cup.
Life in the Gold Coast, an up and coming city that is hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games is a beach. You spend your day surfing and tanning, and the night dancing and drinking in nightclubs that try and outdo one another in degrees of sleazy. On my first day in the Gold Coast, my backpacking leg of the trip, after an afternoon of volleyball and basketball, and an evening of Trivia and pre-night out drinking, in the courtyard of a hostel I ended up staying an extra week in, I along with three party-busloads of backpackers from three different hostels paid $30 for four club entries and a free drink in each club.
Every second and third backpacker I met was German or British. The Scandinavians travelled in pairs and most of them spoke better English than native speakers. They were either trying to find a job or farm work for at least three months that would entitle them for a second year working visa. The priviliges that a first-world passport affords you.. The Southern Europeans, on the other hand, looked at Australia as a more long-term or permanent stop. Jobs are either unavailable or don’t pay well enough in their countries. And the Americans you meet are usually Canadians who always outnumber them in Australia and Asia.
On my last day in the Gold Coast, one guest stood out. He had long flowing hair that he would not stop combing and spoke in a Mancunian accent. He also stared at everyone and we all turned the other way. I joked that he looked like a serial killer. It was the day of the Australian Open Women’s Finals, and an English lad who was friendlier than most said hello to the guest with the flowing hair.
“Alright, mate, how’s it going?” the English lad asked. “Did you watch the tennis?”
“I used to date Serena Williams but she left me because I broke my back,” he said and all of us who were sat on the benches turned our heads to the man in unison. “I have 72 hats and I hate this fucking country.”