After an enjoyable two nights in Kuala Lumpur, it was once again time to shuffle onwards – this time for Melbourne, Australia. The previous hostel I'd been staying was sort of more like some old woman's house than an actual hostel so it was no surprise really that on the morning of my departure she was up and waiting to see us off, myself and another Irish guy bound for Borneo. Along with her however, the tropical rains were also waiting to see us off and it lashed solidly with no signs of stopping. Bummer. We eventually gave in and took a taxi to KL Sentral, where I was able to check-in, dump my bags and then take the train to the airport. I stood there, even in the train station, feeling sweaty and far too hot; even just in my t-shirt and shorts. If I'd known then what would happen in about 10 hours, I'd have probably soaked up the last of the heat and enjoyed it rather than cursing it and making silent prayers for fresh, cold air in Australia. It was winter down there, I was told, although I suspected that if they were anything like the stereotype, they wouldn't know what winter was like if it hit them in the face. So at 10am I sat on a plane bound for Melbourne, guarding the free seat beside me with all my belongings in the hope that nobody would decide to sit there. It was another long journey but some 9 hours later I was standing in the arrivals section of Melbourne Airport, relishing in the cool air passing around the terminal. After enjoying it for long enough, I made my way to the exit and as the automatic doors slid open, I stopped dead on the spot. There's a scene I used to love in the film Cool Runnings, where they attempt to leave Calgary airport and discover that the temperature is significantly cooler than Jamaica. It was, for all intent purposes, the same thing except this time in real life and not a movie. My t-shirt and shorts were simply no match for the ridiculous cold outside, especially after 2 months of being burned alive.
The only option was to dash back into the terminal, into the toilets and empty out the contents of my backpack and pick out the warmest looking items. By the time I finally re-emerged out into the night sky, I was now wearing shoes, socks, proper jeans and my t-shirt had now been added to with a fleece, raincoat and hat. I was ready for Australia. The hostel was essentially a pub with a few bedrooms attached to it and would turn out to be quite an adventure in itself. I wandered into my room where a man a little older than me in a dirty black fleece and looking like he possibly hadn't seen the shower in a few days stood as if he was waiting for me. We made the usual small talk for a few minutes and although I did make an effort to shut him up while I emptied my belongings and tried to make myself at home, he continued to ramble on, occasionally throwing in a ‘bullshit' or ‘asshole' for no apparent reason in the middle of his one-way debate. Eventually all this swearing was making me curious as to what exactly he was saying so I asked him to re-iterate his story if he'd be so kind, knowing of course that far from being kind, he'd more than likely be thrilled to get to tell me his story all over again, so he began all over and from what I could gather the story went a bit like this; somehow this dirty looking hoodlum had been copulating with some girl (I wondered had it been in the very room where I was now expected to stay for a number of days) who's ex boyfriend had found out, even though he was an ex, and was a very angry man. A very, very angry man in fact, in case my poor English hadn't grasped the severity of the situation first time round. Anyway, so – let's call him Bruce – Bruce here was just out on the mean streets going about his evening's business, doing whatever it is you do when you live in a hostel, have no money and look scruffy when who did he bump into only this ladies ex. And then, claimed Bruce, this guy pulled out a screwdriver and stabbed old Bruce. If you were to believe it anyway, which I unfortunately didn't. But after a few minutes of him reciting the story some more times and continuing to pepper the story with some of his choice vocabulary, he eventually lifted up his hoodie and sure enough, his t-shirt was pretty much stained in a circle the colour of blood red from a certain point near his belly button. Bear in mind that having spent a month in Asia, the last place I expected to see a stab victim, let alone one sitting there talking away to me was in Australia. I recommended he pay a somewhat urgent trip to the hospital and while he wasn't initially into the idea he eventually relented and that was the last I saw of Bruce for the following 30 or so hours.
Needless to say, I decided that it was probably safest to hit the bed as early as possible after seeing what was happening to Bruce out on the ‘mean streets' as he liked to call them. Just prior to going to bed however, something very unpleasant happened. A German, about the same age as me and working in an Indian restaurant in Melbourne for the year turned up and announced that he was the third occupant of the room – no problem. I went out to the bathroom to brush my teeth and enjoy the clean, drinkable water from the taps. When I returned however, I opened the door and as I walked in, it took a second or two to properly take effect but I caught a whiff of something altogether very unpleasant – like rotting food, mixed with sweat, mixed with damp, mixed with any number of other unpleasant smells. He was after opening up his suitcase in order to retrieve something from it and by the looks of things, it was going to be staying open all night. And as I peered in from the lofty heights of my top bunk (which swayed back and forth everytime I tried to turn over in it, which was a cause of some concern given that there were no guard rails), I saw that his clothes were mostly dirty and packed in tight all together, obviously giving rise to this terrifying smell. So it was with that, that on my first night in Melbourne which I was already finding cold, I was left with no option but to sleep with the window open in order to not pass out from the shocking smell. I couldn't believe it – even Bruce seemed to keep his stuff locked away at least where nobody could see, or smell it.
Incidentally, it wasn't noise or light that woke me up the next morning – in what was hopefully the first and last time ever in my life, I woke up and noticed the smell straight away; someone had closed the window and given that Bruce was at that point still in hospital debating whether to press charges or not, that left me or my suitcase-owning friend. Melbourne, no doubt about it, was very cold. Well it was about 12 degrees, but to me at least, it was freezing! But it was also unbelievably nice to not have to barter for anything and to be able to sit down knowing quite well that you more than likely wouldn't be hassled to buy postcards or guidebooks. In all honesty, the whole place kind of reminded me of Toronto except possibly bigger and rainier. But I didn't waste time to try and find food that I knew – within the first few hours of the day, I'd already been in to Subway! And it was so nice to finally get a chance to catch up with someone I knew again for a few days (my friend Preet, who I haven't seen since my weekend trip to Hong Kong some years ago). In a way though, it was also quite strange not to be being hassled on the streets or being able to take a bus and actually ask and get a reliable answer as to where it was going. Melbourne has a free shuttle bus for tourists and it really was bordering on the bizarre to get on the bus and be driven to places for free and in relative comfort instead of being roasted, and having to scramble to get your window down, while simultaneously being offered any number of goods to buy. Similarly, at this stage, seeing green on the ground instead of dirty brown soil was unusual and almost looked out of place initially – where were all the dried mud pathways I had been getting used to and what was with all these pedestrian crossings? After getting used to putting my foot out in the midst of trucks, buses, mopeds and cars speeding along the roads in Vietnam and with as much confidence as I could, just walking straight across the road as the traffic sped around me, it really was unusual to actually set foot on a pedestrian crossing and see cars slowing down and stopping – in fact, the first few times I waited at a pedestrian crossing and saw a car coming, I generally either stayed put on the kerb or walked halfway onto the road and stopped until the driver invariably stopped and wondered what I was doing.
Thankfully by the time I reached Sydney this unusual problem had abated somewhat and I was getting back to walking across pedestrian crossing without looking like I was either terrified of cars or like I was looking at something on the ground halfway across the road. Further to my pleasing, the hostel in Sydney was quite different from Melbourne – this time Italians and Germans looking for jobs made up the population, and there was nobody comparable to Bruce to be seen. So what about Sydney? It's a cool place too and parts of it really are beautiful; down by the sea you can become sandwiched with the opera house on one side and the bridge on the other. Then if that doesn't take your fancy, there was a walk through the botanic gardens that led more or less from the steps of the opera house to steps leading up to the hostel. One night I made it down as far as Darling Harbour to find that there was a boat show taking place – I began coming to the conclusion that in spite of what the Government tells us, the global economic slowdown is certainly more focused on Britain, Ireland and the US than anywhere else. So there may not be as many jobs anywhere else either, but there isn't as many people being turfed out of their existing jobs either. Overall the place was certainly the most Westernised city I'd seen in a number of weeks and being able to speak English without having to use overly-camp hand gestures to try and back-up what I was saying was very pleasant although also initially unusual.
Meanwhile, the cold continued to eat away at me and I nearly always went around wrapped up as if I was taking a detour to the Arctic. But I've no doubt that were I in Australia during the summer, everything would've been much more ‘acceptable' in terms of the temperature – I was only in Sydney for a few days before pushing on towards Auckland, where it got slightly colder once again as I edged ever closer towards the South Pole. Certainly if I got a chance, I'd be back there for an Australian summer but as time pushes on, so must I – right now in fact, I'm in Wellington readying myself for the first of 4 flights to take me to Delhi beginning tomorrow over a 3 day period. Hopefully I'll be able to write something about New Zealand in the next few days before reaching India!
Cheers & Hugs…