Is Melbourne the second Boston?
When I opened my eyes, I was already hovering above Melbourne on the crowded, tiny Air Asia airplane. There was no excitement as I thought, just extreme tiredness and an overwhelming desire to get out of this horrible seat. I had never flown a low cost airlines for flights more than 2 hours. I thought I could handle this no-meal, no-air, no-screen, no-drinks, no-leg-room situation, but I was suffering. Well, at least I was alive, still.
While waiting in line for immigration procedure, I suddenly heard the Vietnamese cry “Someone help me, please?” The first time I wasn’t really paying attention. It still didn’t hit me that clearly that I was in a country where hearing Vietnamese was a bit unusual. Or maybe it didn’t really register to me that cry was in Vietnamese. After all, English and Vietnamese are processed pretty much equally in my brain. But the second time, I startled. “Oh wait, did some Vietnamese lad just ask for help?” I looked around. A middle-aged, short and plump woman was waving a sheet of paper, looking lost. Such a familiar scene at overseas airports.
“Yes? What happened?” – I asked in Vietnamese.
She yelped like she just discovered a pot of gold. “Oh good lord, where can I find my bags?”
“After the immigration. See, no one here is dragging any bags, right?” I smiled.
What followed after that was she glued to me. We talked a bit while in line. Her son was doing a PhD in Australia. He now graduated and was married with 2 kids, the second one was just born a few months ago and now she came here to be the nanny. They lived in the Richmond area just outside Melbourne City. She asked me to come rest at her (son’s) house for the afternoon just as an expression of gratitude. “It’s so good to meet a fellow countryman in Australia.” – She said.
I refused. Not because I didn’t have time as I told her, but I thought that would be unnecessary. I didn’t do anything for her. And I never felt the strong connection to other Vietnamese. It’s either my family or others, no nationality discrimination at work.
My first impression with Melbourne? It reminded me so much of the States, especially Boston – a nostalgic and a bit weird feeling. The same modern, shiny buildings. The same dry, sunny and windy air. The same cleanliness and blue sky. The same changing-color trees. The same quietness. And holy cow there were so many Asians. Dragging my luggage behind, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, gosh, this familiar scene and feeling was aching.
We didn’t do much that day. Around 11 in the morning, we got to the hotel, a 3-storey old building standing humbly at the corner of King and Little Lonesdale, easily ignored if you didn’t particularly look for it. Check in was not until 2 pm, so they kept our bags, we went out for something to eat. Pho 24, the Vietnamese noodles chain, was our destination – a rather coincidental choice since I wasn’t looking for it. I was just walking along Spencer street near the Southern Cross Station while I saw that familiar logo. A pleasant surprise to see such restaurant in a faraway country, to know that a Vietnamese chain could operate all the way here. The food was horrendous though. It had none of the original, authentic flavors and tastes. The broth was simply sweet from sugar, none of the rich, flavorful, natural bone broth. The noodles were too soft, almost spongy, maintaining no trace of the mildly chewy texture. And the beef tasted like any other kind of protein. You couldn’t tell if it was beef, chicken, pork, lamb, or even fake beef made from tofu.
Interestingly, or not, the first thing I did in Melbourne after that disappointing (and expensive) lunch was to go shopping. My shoe just decided to stop working the moment I walked out of the Southern Cross Station. Its sole detached, to be exact. Located above the station is an outlet, with several shoe stores. Surprisingly, they had a lot of pairs my size – size 5. I thought I had to buy a kid’s shoes, but they had my size for all the pretty ones. Another reason to love Australia already.
Too tired from the long uncomfortable flight, we checked in and slept until dinner time, when we went to a Chinese restaurant on Little Bourke street in the China town area. Good food – my mom would say, but not my type. I would go for McDonald’s instead of that pork belly slow cooked in soy sauce.
And the first real activity of the day came after that fulfilling dinner – wandering along the Yarra river, from Princes bridge, with this stunning view of the CBD
End of day 2 of the trip. I still didn’t know much about the city, or the country. But I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when the real adventure began.