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 café 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.

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