Monday, 30 April 2012

An old friend arrives - Perth, Australia

Mike and I in Lacker's Grill, Northbridge - Mike's first meal in Australial!
Just under two weeks ago I walked through the automatic doors which stand motionless in front of me.  My eyes wonder from the television playing news constantly, to entertain me and the others waiting either side of me, over to the board which gave me slightly frustrating news.  The flight that Mike was on from Hong Kong was delayed by around thirty minutes.  Great.  I inhaled and exhaled a disappointed sigh and turned away from the arrivals area for a look around the terminal’s shops.  Like most airports you have your duty/tax free shop selling you all the perfume you could ever need at a ‘discounted’ price and the extortionate newsagent which double the price of everything from the high street value. 

Every couple of minutes I raise my left wrist and pull back sleeve with my right hand to reveal the time.  It was moving slowly.  I heard an announcement over the intercom.  It wasn’t Mike’s flight from Hong Kong but a flight returning some debauched Australians from their two week holiday on the Indonesian island of Bali.  As it’s the closest foreign land to Australia, so many people head over there to drink themselves stupid on the extremely cheap alcohol.  I have yet to grace Bali with my presence, so will hold any further ‘high horse’ judgement until I do.  His flight finally arrived and after eight months, Mike and Andy were reunited on the other side of the world, or as some say….  Down Under…

Thankfully we only had to endure the hostel for a couple of nights before we were handed a get out of hell free card.  Although I find myself wondering whether my negativity is a result to comparing The Billabong to the amazing and cheap hostels I stayed at in Asia where you were always greeted with a smiling face as you stepped through the door and fellow travellers invited you over for drinks.  A friend of mine whom I had met in Malaysia had warned me about the travellers you find in Australia.  They’re a different breed.  Most come over purely for work and find themselves living in the same hostel for months on end, thus making friends with other ‘long-termers’ and not interested in meeting anyone else. Language also plays a massive part in the travelling community.  In non-English speaking countries travellers tend to find each other through the masses of locals and grab hold of each other as they understand what you’re going through and you can talk to them.  In Australia, you can go anywhere and have conversations with anyone you want to thus making it unnecessary to make an effort.  From my first couple of days in the hostel I could tell that most of its inhabitants were long-termers.

Chloe, Jess and Steve
On my first weekend in Australia it was Jess’ birthday and Steve had planned an amazing day of activities for her ranging from Camel riding, Supa Golf to the AQWA, Western Australia’s superb Aquarium and not forgetting the Margaret River Chocolate Factory in Swan Valley.  As I had little money and memories of all the pain from riding a camel through the Sahara in Morocco a year before, I decided to sit on the side line with their friend Chloe and watch as they climbed atop of the magnificent camels and strode off into the bush.  What a fantastic day I had and it was a great chance to get to know Steve, Jess and their friends.  Supa Golf will always remain an awesome memory as it quickly turned from serious golf to a mass putting war at the end as we all embarked on the green from all sides smacking the ball to get into the hole…  perhaps a few fouls were committed and a few hand throws were made.  If you remember back to my blog on Phetchaburi, Thailand where I was extremely excited to find Cadbury’s chocolate, well I had exactly the same experience in Australia.  Cadbury’s is only fantastic in Britain!  To remedy my disappointment and also expand my chocolate palate, Steve and Jess took me to Margaret River Chocolate Factory which make supremely delicious chocolate and provide free tastings…. Heaven…

Mike and I in Ledge Point
This weekend Steve, Jess, Chloe, Ed and Tess (the dog) took Mike and I to tony and Marilyn’s beach house in Ledge Point which is a hundred or so kilometres north of Perth.  It was our first real journey out of the city, into the bush and our first sight of the great Australian wilderness.  As soon as we got to Ledge Point, the alcohol came out and the drinking began.  Mike and I were on our beer but were stupidly convinced to mix it all up with a few cocktails… Bad mistake!  The morning after was painful.  My stomach retched as I tried to force down bacon and eggs.  It was no good but three rounds on the white telephone later, I was feeling better, although with a slightly blurred mind.  With my head pounding, Mike and I hopped into the car with Steve and Jess.  Ed and Chloe followed as we drove to the sea front.  As it was the middle of winter, it was cold outside as the fresh wind blew off the Indian Ocean.  The beach was full of commotion as a man’s car had got stuck in the sand.  The sea was quickly swallowing it up and a man tried vigorously to try and free the vehicle.  Just as we thought it was a gonna, the mans pumped the accelerator of his four wheel drive one last time and to the owner’s relief his car was free.  With that excitement, Steve took us to the sand dunes at neighbouring Lancelin where dirt bikes, quad bikes and other vehicles stormed up and down the exciting terrain without a care in the world.

Our weekend in Ledge Piont was unfortunately over and we soon found ourselves sitting in front of the internet computers back in the Billabong checking our emails.  One email in particular took my interest.  It was a response to the advert I placed on Gumtree requesting a shared house to rent.  A lady named Pip said that she may have something for us, so we gave her a call and she promptly turned up to show us the flat.  It was quite far out in a suburb called Inglewood, not too far in hindsight but an hour’s walk from the city centre.  The flat was awesome, with a bus stop outside which goes straight into Perth ever ten minutes and IGA and Coles (supermarkets) nearby.  We agreed to take the flat and with an exchange of deposit, she gave us the keys for us to move in the next day.  Perfect….  Now it’s time to Get a Job….   

Our flat, Parri Towers Beaufort Street, Inglewood

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Back in the West, Down Under - 2 July 2011

Perth; a view from King's Park

I can’t help constantly looking over my shoulder in bewilderment as my ears and brain strain with the constant understanding.  Behind me is a group of people in their early twenties talking quickly with excitement over their Saturday dinner. Waiters rush past our table whilst serving food.  My presence seems alien.  I feel as though I don’t belong.  I haven’t been in a place where everybody was white and speaks English since home.  On my table were Tony, Marilyn, Steve (Mum’s cousin) and Jess (Steve’s partner).  I hadn’t seen Steve since he was on holiday with his parent in the UK many years ago.  My eyelids are extraordinarily heavy and my mind struggling to process the easiest of things due to sleep exhaustion. 

At five o’clock this morning I walked through into the arrivals hall, dazed and my tired eyes straining with the bright lights.  I look around for Tony and Marilyn, my Mum’s Uncle and Auntie, with slight guilt as they’ve come to pick me up so early as they had very kindly offered to let me stay at their house for a while.  I see them sitting over by the window and I go over to them.  I have only seen them a handful of times before and I was surprised that I recognised them. 

The automatic doors open into the dark wilderness of Australia and to my surprise, and a certain amount of relief, cold air rushed past me causing my muscles to shudder.  I was in Australia and it felt strange.  Flying cheats the feeling of distance and doesn’t allow your mind time to adjust to the subtle changes between countries and climates.  Over the last twelve hours I have been on two aircraft, in three countries and in three airports.  For what took me months of travel could have taken me 20 hours to fly.  It doesn’t feel right.  I feel cheated.  I can’t help but think of that marvellous land that passed 40,000 feet beneath me as I tried my hardest to sleep whilst the bathroom door behind me was slammed shut over and over again. 

Following our meal and my first Australian beer, my family took me on a drive through the bush but my eyelids gave way to the movement of the car and all I remember is a variety of moments where the bumps on the dirt road woke me.  The little trip culminated at King’s Park, sitting high above the city of Perth overlooking the Central Business District.  The cold July air raced through my nostrils giving me a second burst of energy.  I realised that this was an iconic moment of my Epic Voyage around the world.  Phase II, The Awesome Australian Adventure begins in a new city, hopefully a job and in a couple of weeks my friend Mike will be flying out to join me down under.  I was also in the Southern Hemisphere where people walk upside down and take a Kangaroo taxi to work. To my surprise, this turned out to be a falsity.

Over the next few days I met Tony and Marilyn’s oldest son, Dave and his soon to be wife, Stacey and their three children who live close by.  Then we took a drive out to York where I met the remainder of the family, Jill, Sean, Casseda and newly born Ebony.  My arrival in Australia was apparently unfortunate timing with the new baby and Tony and Marilyn were heading over to Europe for a few months.  It was wonderful to finally meet the entire of my elusive Australian relatives as I had only, as far as my memory goes, met Tony, Marilyn and Steve during their holidays to the UK. 

The Bell Tower, Perth's Esplanade
They say ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’ which means I must be devilish.  I have been in Australia for two days but am not waiting around to look for a job.  They also say ‘there’s no time like the present’ and with that in mind and my CV in my hands I head into Perth and to Aussie Jobs, an employment agency specialising in getting work for the transient backpacker.  Andy and Emma who I met on a rough bus journey in Northern Vietnam between Sapa and Dien Bien Phu had recommended.   I was not impressed as I was met with hostility from the moment I stepped through the front door.  In actual fact I already disliked the agency as I had emailed them several times alerting them to my impending arrival in Perth and asking them what I needed to do to get work.  I received no response.  I sent them a follow up email.  No answer.  I called them and received “We don’t deal with anyone over email or phone.  You must come in.”  My issue with that was why they didn’t just respond to one of my multiple emails just telling me that.  Their attitude towards me made me weep for Asian friendliness.

Despite a couple of trips to Aussie Jobs, I got nothing and actually didn’t want anything from them.  I was also in a situation where I needed to wait for a couple of weeks until Mike turns up.  To be honest with everyone here, I have never had the inclination to travel Australia.  There’s no central reason to it, there are just other places in the world that I want to visit first.  Just like the United States, doesn’t currently appeal to me.  My preconception is that travel through these countries is relatively simple and there are no real challenges plus western cultures are too similar to each other for real interest. 

For a week I wandered Perth visiting countless agencies, searching shop and cafĂ© windows and souring the internet for jobs.  Nothing came up and my determined mood turned downtrodden.  I decided that I was going to take some time to rest and postpone my hunt for a few days until Mike arrives as Tony and Marilyn will be leaving on their trip over the other side soon too.  Lesmurdie was nearly a two hour round journey on the bus so once Tony and Marilyn left on their trip, I was going to head down to Perth and stay in a hostel which would make it easier to look for a job.  Mike had already booked a room in The Billabong which was a hostel on the outskirts of Perth and so I checked in to that same one on the day he was scheduled to arrive.  My mind creaked as I walked through the blue doors leading into my new home.  I had grown comfortable and attached to the wonderfully soft double bed and warm surroundings up in Lesmurdie, that the thought of going back into a dorm room caused great anguish running through my body.  I had heard stories about Australian hostels and preconceptions were duly created in my mind of dirty, cramp and unfriendly places who charge an incredible amount of money for nothing.  I shook of the feeling and forced positive thoughts through my mind.  The concrete floor felt hard to walk on and as I placed my luggage on the floor, I felt as though I was standing at the reception of a cheap gymnasium rather than a hostel.  I reluctantly handed over the twenty-eight dollars plus another twenty for a deposit and made my way up the stairs to find my room.  I had chosen to pay an extra two dollars to stay in a four person dorm instead of a six and I’m glad I did.