WARNING: THERE IS A PICTURE OF A CLOWN IN THIS POST!
In true writer’s style, this story has a beginning (where things are kind of good), middle (there are some problems and issues that need resolving) and an end (conclusion somewhat optimistic, but definitely still room for a sequel). Be warned, it’s not the happiest post I’ve ever written, and whilst I’m reserving judgement on this city as a whole, my experiences in it so far are not particularly positive.
So the journey was great. Couldn’t fault it, even though I had been warned against Air Asia for longer flights. Personally, I’ve flown with them for numerous domestic and short flights from years ago to only a few months back, and even had a flight from Phuket to Siem Reap that had a transfer in Bangkok’s older international airport, DMK. The way they handled the “fly-through” passengers on that occasion was truly efficient and really surprised me, so I had faith in the airline to get me to Melbourne in one piece.
The same can’t be said of my yellow suitcase though. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t get lost, thank goodness! Casting my mind back to how the price was haggled down in the markets of Siem Reap in my first few days of arriving all those months ago in the beginning of February, even when the quality seemed legit at the time, I can see how if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. To be completely honest, I did over-pack it a little. Like I said, I didn’t have to sit on it to make it close, but it wasn’t far off. When I put it on the belt to check it into the hold, it was just over 18kg, which isn’t heavy at all. 15 or so hours later, when I took the suitcase off the conveyor belt at baggage claim, I pressed the button to bring up the pull-along handle, the whole handle came clean off. No big deal, I could still push it along on its 4 wheels with 360o rotation. When I eventually got off the bus, I put the suitcase down and I heard an ominous crack. I pushed the suitcase and it kind of juddered forward and I stumbled over one lone wheel that sat on the floor, a clear seven inches from the rest of the suitcase. I picked it up, threw it into a nearby rubbish bin and tilted the bag to manoeuver it along as if it only had two wheels, hearing some more cracking. As I came into the foyer of the hostel, I heard a gleeful shout of “You really did a number on your bag, didn’t ya?” I don’t think she intended to come across mean or sarcastic, but it took all of my willpower and patience to not snap at her in agitation or even sneer at her with my tired eyes. I had to remind myself though, the only person who had broken the suitcase was me. It came off the baggage claim belt in one piece, and only when I started manhandling it, did it start falling to bits. I’ve been put off buying hard shell suitcases for life.
In any case, when I stepped up to the reception desk, which thankfully wasn’t far and the girl didn’t even ask my name, let alone smile. She just looked at the time and said “Check in isn’t usually until 2pm. We can keep your luggage down in the basement for you…?” like that was doing me the biggest favour and I should be grateful that I didn’t need to keep my broken suitcase on my person for the next 3 hours. After a long journey, all I wanted was a hot shower and a bed; the last thing I wanted to hear was “you can chill out in the bar until later if you like”. Gee, thanks.
Having booked my trip so long ago, before I even left the UK, I couldn’t recall from the top of my sleep-deprived mind whether I had free wifi included with my booking or not. When I went up to the desk to ask how I get online, the very tall blonde German girl kind of smirked and pointed at a huge poster that advertised rates for standard and unlimited wifi. After SE Asia, this is the biggest culture shock so far. YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR WIFI? IT IS NOT FREE LIKE THE AIR WE BREATHE? Honestly, as I sit here writing this, I’m still astounded as to how any business dares to charge their customers for the privilege to surf the internet, and completely flabbergasted when they say they don’t have any wifi capability. It’s one thing to ask people to pay for internet access, but quite another to state that it is impossible to hook up to the interwebs, unless you have cellular data (which I do now!). There are hundreds of things that the west can learn from “developing” countries, and their attitude to wifi is definitely on the list. So is treating other people with respect, but you know, you have to both manage your priorities and be realistic.
Of course the weather is going to be another major body shock. You can mentally prepare for 17oC, but it is very different to physically experiencing it. Having been used to an average of 30, if it dropped below 25 we were actually getting cardigans out and complaining it was getting a little chilly. When I ventured out on my first evening in the city, it just started to drizzle lightly and so I didn’t walk across the sand at St Kilda beach. Plus, it was around 7pm, so it was already past sunset and cooler still by a few degrees. The sea air was nice and fresh though, and I’ll be going back soon enough to take some better pictures. The beach reminded me distinctly of a seaside town in the north of the UK that has become quite the destination for hen and stag parties of a Saturday night. The popular Luna Park isn’t open during the week until the summer hits, but there is an unmistakeable rollercoaster of a similar style to “The Big Dipper” found at Blackpool Pleasure Beach that peeks up above the outer fence to the amusement park. The weather is getting better day by day though, and soon enough, I’ll be back to my comfort zone. I’ll tell you something, the autumn and winter of 2017 are really going to knock me for six in the UK!
Anyway, I passed a cute row of eateries, one of which was a chip shop. I’ve been craving fish and chips laced with salt and vinegar for a while now, but I vowed to stave off until I got to Australia. Whilst I didn’t take the fish, the portion of chips were glorious. Crisp and golden on the outside and fluffy and suitably mushy in the middle. They had come straight out of the fryer and I blew hot air visibly from my mouth in my haste to taste. I will definitely be going back for the fish, though a small portion will set me back 14 Aussie dollars (about £8). The only reason I didn’t have it today wasn’t the price, more because since I have been travelling East and losing time, I’ve been continuing to eat (small) meals at appropriate local times, so there was no way I could have managed it all. And while I’ve never been one to waste food, after spending such an extended period of time out in Cambodia, I feel even worse now if I put food in the bin. So here we have two areas of major difference from Siem Reap and Melbourne – 1. Different food and 2. Price of said different food. I’m not going to go into detail here. Of course I knew that everything was going to be more expensive, but I’m looking forward to having my own place and kitting it out with some herbs and spices. I will be making all manner of pasta dishes in the not-too-distant future.
The past couple of days have passed in somewhat of a blur. I’ve been emailing landlords/potential new housemates in order to set up some meetings, but since I still don’t know North from South, let alone actual neighbourhoods, I’m kind of flying blind here. I’ve extended my stay at the hostel for another couple of nights, because to find a house within three days was always incredibly ambitious. To be honest, I only booked the short stay in the first place because I didn’t know whether the hostel and I would be a good match. I figured I could book into somewhere different when I arrived, or extend my stay if the place was okay. Though I’ve been away from home since the end of December 2015, I’ve spent a grand total of nine nights sleeping in hostels. Every other night was in either a hotel, a homestay or my own place. And there’s a reason for that… I definitely don’t like the hostel style. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about myself (and let me tell you, when you travel solo, you learn things about yourself that you would never have imagined…), it is that I very much like my own space. I’ve gone from being set on living with others in a flatshare/houseshare situation, to getting on Gumtree and my keywords being “one bed apt”.
Edit: since the extension of a couple of nights, I’ve actually booked into another hostel for a few nights. There was a problem with the wifi at the first one, so I couldn’t just sit in the communal area, bashing out emails and calling people about ads on Gumtree and flatmates.com. It isn’t the most amazing place, but I’ve at least been able to send out responses to ads and I’ve even had calls back from a few of them. I’m going to see a place tomorrow afternoon and I’m feeling really good about it.
I’ve met up with a couple of friends in the area, and they’ve been really supportive, making sure I know my way around the public transport system (another area that takes some getting used to after an extended period out in SE Asia… in fact, the public transport system is so vast and to be completely honest with you, really quite fascinating, so you’re going to get a whole post about that… I know, you can’t contain your excitement, can you!??), meeting for lunch and drinks and whatnot, and it goes back to what I was saying last week about everyone being in a similar situation and wanting to share their experiences to prevent you from making the same mistakes. Admittedly, Melbourne is a hub for backpackers arriving at the start of their working holiday visa, and though I don’t like to be tarred with the same brush as them, at least there are a bunch of people all trying to start lives here too.
Sure, they don’t all have broken suitcases, but I’ve resolved that problem already. I bought a new one. A decent one. From a suitcase shop and everything. It even has a 15-year warrantee. Only downside here is that it isn’t yellow. You win some, you lose some, right?